This week, I’ve been exploring sleep onset latency—what it means, and what it says about your sleep habits and your body chemistry. Today we’ll explore the next logical question: Can you regulate your sleep onset latency?
As I mentioned last time, regulating your sleep habits can help you regulate your sleep latency. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re likely to nod off the second your head hits the pillow—and wake still feeling groggy and unrefreshed.
If, on the other hand, you’re taking too long to fall asleep, consider that you may actually be getting more hours in bed than you need. The “everyone should get eight hours” adage just isn’t so. There are some individuals out there who function quite nicely on 6 hours of sleep or so… while others need 9 or more to feel alert and at their best.
Your body’s circadian rhythm is the key to a healthy sleep onset latency of somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. Once you determine the amount of sleep you think you need, start a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day for at least 3 weeks before you judge the results to give your body time to adjust. You may find that as you build healthy habits, your sleep onset latency normalizes so that you’re falling asleep in a relaxed manner each night—without staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, or dropping off to exhausted sleep the minute you climb into bed.
… And No.
Regulating your sleep schedule and the length of time you sleep may help to iron out minor imbalances in your sleep hormones or related body chemistry—but it may not. If, for example, your body doesn’t produce enough melatonin at or after bedtime, you may not be able to fall asleep comfortably. If you have sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or another disorder that interrupts your sleep, you may sleep for 9 hours or more but still feel groggy in the morning — and have trouble building a sleep schedule that works.
If basic at-home regulatory techniques aren’t working for you, talk to a sleep specialist. Sometimes, having testing done in a sleep lab is the only way to figure out what’s thrown your sleep onset latency out of whack — so you can fix the problem and start getting the healthy sleep you need.