When you get into bed at night, do you relax for a few minutes — maybe reading a book or thinking about your day — before nodding off? Or do you fall asleep immediately, with little to no awareness of your head even hitting the pillow? If the latter sounds familiar, it might be your body's way of telling you something about your health.
"In general, falling asleep within five to 30 minutes is considered good sleep onset quality," Dr. Roy Raymann, vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScore Labs, tells Bustle. Ideally, you shouldn't be lying there for hours desperately trying to fall asleep. But you shouldn't necessarily be passing out right away, either.
To start, consider how well you're sleeping. "Most people need seven to nine hours each night," Raymann says, and that means actually being asleep for that chunk of time, and waking up refreshed. This can be easier to achieve if you practice good sleep hygiene, which can set you up for a solid night's rest.
That said, if you sleep well for a week and you're still feeling tired, or falling asleep fast, Raymann says it may be time to visit your doctor so they can further examine what might be the underlying cause. Read on for some reasons why you might fall asleep so quickly, according to experts.
1. You're Getting Sick
"If you find yourself falling asleep more quickly than you would generally, it could be a sign you’re getting sick or you need to catch up on your sleep," Raymann says. Your body might be in the process of fighting off a cold or flu, making it easier to fall right asleep.
"Both falling asleep quickly and feeling tired are signs that your body is trying to tell you it needs more rest and recovery," Raymann says. "So do not ignore it or fight it with an energy drink; just get schedule some extra Zzzs."
2. You're Sleep Deprived
If you're in the habit of staying up late, or if you aren't getting those seven hours of solid sleep each night, you could easily become sleep deprived. And that can lead you to pass out quickly the following night.
While it may not seem like a big deal, keep in mind that "getting anything less than six to seven hours a night consistently can have harmful deleterious effects on your brain and body, such as memory deficits [and] reduced ability to concentrate," Abhinav Singh, MD, sleep expert and medical director at the Indiana Sleep Center, tells Bustle.
According to Singh, habits that can lead to chronic sleep deprivation include using your phone/TV/tablet in bed, exercising late at night within three hours of bedtime, and eating meals within two hours of bedtime, so these are things you'll want to avoid in order to get better sleep.
3. You Have Low Sleep Quality
"Similar to sleep deprivation, if you have low quality sleep, then you’re more likely to fall asleep easier," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, a registered nurse and contributor to Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle. "Low quality sleep can mean that you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason or you wake up because you need to go to the bathroom." And as a result, you don't getting enough rest.
"Your quality of sleep can be influenced by a variety of factors like your diet, lifestyle, and even some medical conditions," Wood says. If you aren't sleeping well, and making a few lifestyle changes — such as putting your phone away at night — hasn't improved the situation, let a doctor know.
4. You Have Sleep Apnea
"Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder cause fragmentation of sleep," Ellen Wermter, board-certified family nurse practitioner and Better Sleep Council spokesperson, tells Bustle. That means you wake you up during the night — sometimes without even realizing it — and feel extra tired the next day.
"When sleep quality suffers, you are more driven to sleep and will fall asleep more quickly," Wermter says. For sleep apnea, other signs include loud snoring, gasping for air, waking up with a dry mouth, and morning headaches.
For periodic limb movement disorder, be on the lookout for an uncomfortable sensation in your legs as you try to fall asleep. If you sleep next to a partner, they might also notice that you move your legs a lot during the night.
5. You Have Narcolepsy
"Narcolepsy is another sleep disorder that can cause a person to have profound excessive daytime sleepiness," Wermter says. "[People] with narcolepsy often fall asleep very quickly and sometimes have difficulty perceiving the difference between sleep and wake states."
Narcolepsy may be something worth considering if you feel tired all the time, or if you fall asleep in places you shouldn't. Other symptoms include loss of muscle tone, sleep paralysis, and even hallucinations. If any of those things sound familiar, let a doctor know.
6. You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
"If you are getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and are still falling asleep quickly, other causes need to be ruled out such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)," Dr. Gene Sambataro, DDS, a dentist with a focus on treating sleep-disordered breathing issues, tells Bustle.
This is a condition characterized by extreme fatigue, he says, that's made worse by exertion. "If someone suffers from CFS they will typically fall asleep quickly at anytime during the day, not just at night," Sambataro says. "Quite often those with CFS do not feel better after a full night's sleep since it's typically due to an underlying issue/health concern, not just lack of sleep."
7. You're More Stressed Than You Realize
If all you can think about is curling up in bed and going to sleep, stress may be to blame. "This is because your body is using sleep as a defense mechanism," Wood says. "By going to sleep, your body is trying to reduce the amount of stress it’s under. When you’re sleeping, your heart rate and blood pressure are typically lower, which is the complete opposite of when you’re stressed."
Of course, everyone deals with small amounts of stress on a daily basis, and that's OK. But if you feel as if stress is impacting your health, take note. It might help to reduce the stress in your life, or reach out to a therapist for advice.
8. You Have An Issue With Your Thyroid
"If you fall asleep quickly and are also having body aches, constipation, and are frequently cold, you might have a problem with your thyroid," Wood says, and that can have a big impact how well you feel.
"Your thyroid releases various hormones that help your body function and one of the things it impacts is sleep," Wood says. "So, if it’s not functioning correctly, it can cause you to feel tired more frequently, which can lead to falling asleep more quickly."
9. Your Hormones Are Fluctuating
"The hormone progesterone can cause what’s called 'crashing fatigue,' which is an overwhelming need to sleep," Rose MacDowell, sleep expert and chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "This type of fatigue is common during the later stages of the menstrual cycle, as well as perimenopause and menopause."
If you're in the middle of your period, it's fine if you feel tired and need extra sleep. But if the fatigue doesn't lift once your period is over, make an appointment with your doctor so they can check for other possible underlying conditions.
10. You Have A Mood Disorder
"Falling asleep quickly, at odd hours, or in inappropriate places is a common sign of depression or other mood disorders," MacDowell says. Anxiety, for instance, can leave you feeling positively exhausted by the end of the day. And things like bipolar disorder can impact when and how much you sleep, too. If this is the case for you, it can be a good idea to talk to loved ones or a therapist for more help.
11. You Have A Strong Sleep Drive
Keep in mind, though, that "a strong drive to sleep isn't always negative," Wermter says. "Sometimes it simply means that you've adequately worn yourself out."
Throughout the day, the chemical adenosine builds up in your body and helps to create the need for sleep, Wermter says. "Physical activity contributes to the build-up of adenosine, as does mental exertion," she says.
That said, if anything listed above sounds familiar, don't hesitate to ask a doctor about it. While you may simply be tired and in need of more sleep, falling asleep quickly could be a sign of something more, and is definitely worth investigating.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.