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Sleep Latency: What Is It & How It Affects Your Sleep Cycle

When you’re lying in bed awake for what feels like hours while the person next to you falls asleep in seconds, a lot of thoughts can go through your mind. For one thing, you may wonder why what seems easy for others is so hard for you. Why are you different? Is there something wrong? Can you do anything to make yourself fall asleep faster? What is that time between lying down to sleep and actually falling asleep called? The answer to that last question is sleep latency.

What is Sleep Latency?


Sleep latency
 is the span of time it takes between lights out and actual sleep. The time it takes to fall asleep from being fully awake is also called sleep onset latency, and it’s different for everyone. Your sleep latency can be an indicator in your sleep health. 


The time it takes for you to fall asleep should be brief or, at the very least, it shouldn’t take too long. As you can imagine, your sleep latency is the first step in a good night’s sleep. So, how does your sleep latency affect your sleep cycle?

Sleep Latency and Sleep Efficiency

Sleep latency relates directly with the efficiency of your sleep. Our sleep health impacts our mood, stress, and productivity. We’ve probably all felt the effects of inefficient sleep from time to time. 

After a rough night, it’s common to wake up with brain fog, be easily irritated throughout the day, and even feel a bit groggy during the day. 


If you’re asleep for the majority of the time you’re in bed, you are considered sleep efficient. When you spend most of your time trying to be asleep instead of actually sleeping, your sleep is inefficient. For normal sleep efficiency, you would spend about 85 percent of your time in bed asleep. Sleep efficiency that is greater than 90 percent is good, and sleep efficiency less than 85 percent is considered poor. 


So, if you’re in bed for eight hours, a good sleep efficiency means you wouldn’t spend more than 45 minutes awake. If your sleep latency time is closer to an hour, your only hope for your sleep efficiency is the normal range, and if you have any disturbances in the night, there goes your sleep efficiency numbers. 


Sleep latency ties directly into sleep efficiency. A normal sleep latency for adults is about 10 to 20 minutes, and people who have this normal range are likely to have a good sleep efficiency too. 

How Sleep Latency Affects Your Sleep Cycle

Like most of the body’s functions, sleep has a cycle that it needs to go through in order to be effective. Before your sleep cycle can begin, you have to fall asleep, and that’s where your sleep latency comes in. 


Stage 1


Once you’ve fallen asleep, that limbo feeling is stage one of the sleep cycle. In this period, you shift from wakefulness to sleep, and it consists of a period of light non-REM sleep. Distinguishing stage one from sleep latency would be next to impossible for the person falling asleep. 


During stage one, your heart rate slows down, and your breathing, eye movements, and brain waves follow suit and slow down as well. Your muscles relax, but they will occasionally twitch. You will be in this stage of your sleep cycle for about five minutes or less. 


Stage 2


As your muscles continue to relax further, your eye movements will stop, and your body temperature will drop. During this stage, stage two, you are in a deeper non-REM sleep that lasts about 25 minutes. As your sleep cycle continues throughout the night, the amount of time you spend in stage two grows longer. Stage two of the sleep cycle is where about 
50 percent of sleep in adults takes place.


Stage 3


This is a third stage non-REM sleep, and it is the deepest stage of our sleep at night. This stage is the hardest to wake up from. During stage three, our heart rate, breathing, and brain waves are regular. Unlike stage two, this stage gets shorter with each round of sleep cycles. So, you experience most of your deep sleep in the first half of the night. The amount of deep sleep we get at night tends to decrease with age. 


Stage 4


Stage four is the last stage in the sleep cycle. This is where REM sleep happens. REM is not just an American band from Athens, Georgia. When it comes to sleep, REM stands for rapid eye movement because the eyes move quickly from side to side during this sleep stage. 


During REM sleep, your breathing quickens and becomes less even. Your breathing is not the only thing to become less regular. Blood pressure and heart rate are more erratic during this stage as well. 


Stage four is the stage most associated with dreaming, and it is in the stage that most people experience the muscle paralysis known as muscle atonia. Muscle atonia is what keeps us from acting out our dreams. 


Stage four lasts about 10 minutes during the first sleep cycle, and like stage two, it increases in length as the night goes on. In the last cycle of sleep, the REM stage can last up to one hour. This can prompt the feeling that you’ve been dreaming all night.

Complete Sleep Cycle

It takes approximately 90 to 120 minutes to complete all four stages of the sleep cycle. Upon completion, the cycle starts again. The standard recommendation of eight hours of sleep per night would allow a person to have four complete sleep cycles before waking. 


Sleep latency ties directly to the sleep cycle. A person with good sleep latency is more likely to progress through the stages of sleep more easily and more comfortably. Transitioning through the stages allows for a deeper, more restful sleep.

What About Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt is what occurs when you are not getting enough sleep. Like real debt, it can accumulate over time, and as the debt piles up, you feel the mental and physical strain of not getting enough sleep. Sleep debt can affect your sleep latency. As you can imagine, people who are extremely tired and overdue on their sleep debt are more likely to fall asleep quickly. 


When we’re well rested and paid up on our sleep debt, sleep latency can be closer to normal or longer. Falling asleep almost immediately when you lie down may indicate that you need to aim for more sleep on a nightly basis to lower your sleep debt.

What Can You Do To Improve Your Sleep Latency?

When you want to improve your sleep, you want to take a natural approach. A lot of options that are available to you are ineffective or they make you feel groggy the next day. 


Part of the reason you want to improve your sleep is so you wake up feeling refreshed and rested, so you want something that’s been proven to work that won’t be overly medicated. 


A natural supplement is a great way to improve your sleep latency. Complete Calm Sleep Gummies are an easy solution to excessive sleep latency and other sleep issues that you can feel good about. Taking one of these vegan, gluten free gummies about half an hour or an hour before bed will have you ready for the transition to sleep.


The blend of terpenes help you feel an almost immediately calming sensation and help you drift into a sleep that feels more restorative. When you sleep better, you feel better and can handle stress better. 


The Complete Calm Sleep Gummies help support your emotional health, improve the quality of your sleep, and work to reduce tension. 


The reason these gummies are so effective are the natural key ingredients they contain. You can opt for gummies with melatonin because it’s a natural hormone our bodies produce throughout the day to help us stay alert during the day and help us to rest at night. Choosing melatonin in your gummies can be important because our bodies produce less melatonin as we age. 


In the gummies that do not have melatonin, one of the key ingredients is L-tryptophan which is an essential amino acid our bodies use to help create serotonin which helps support emotional wellness. In both options, there is a blend of extracts that work to promote your sleep health and give the gummies their great taste. 


Additionally, Complete Calm Sleep Gummies have a patented extract of Persian saffron called Safr-Inside that naturally supports your sleep health and emotional wellness. Stress less and sleep more is a motto we could all stand to live by.

Conclusion


Instead of side-eyeing your partner as they fall asleep quickly, you can join them with a natural solution that will reduce the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep and lead you to a better sleep cycle. There are several components in a good night’s sleep, but reducing your sleep latency can set you up for sleep success. 


Sources:

Sleep Latency | Science Direct 

Physiology, Sleep Stages | NCBI

Melatonin, human aging, and age-related diseases | PubMed  

Meet our Experts

This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.

  • Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert

    Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.