Bored & Confused: Why some people sleep easily, and others don’t

If you’re like me, you likely need total darkness and quiet to get a good night’s sleep. Even then, it’ll take over an hour of lying in bed, pretending to sleep, before you actually fall asleep. If you’re like me, you also envy those who can fall asleep at a moment’s notice, seemingly by command. Why do these differences in sleep exist? Is there any way for a less sleep-prone person to become a person who is?

To figure out why some people fall asleep easier than others do, we should find out just why we fall asleep in the first place. The reason has to do with the body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is a human’s sense of day and night — when to sleep and when not to sleep. The natural cycle of day and night reinforces maximum energy during the day and drowsiness after 8 p.m. to ensure a healthy sleep; however, circadian rhythm is easily manipulated by bright lights, melatonin and other sleep factors.

Moreover, there is a definite guideline for the perfect amount of time before someone falls asleep: An average sleeper should fall asleep in five to 15 minutes. Twenty to 30 minutes is worrying, implying insomnia, whereas five minutes is too short, implying unhealthy exhaustion. So, if you’re falling asleep in only a few minutes, you might just be sleep-deprived. Similarly, if you have trouble falling asleep, you might just need to sleep a bit less.

A powerful inhibitor of falling asleep is obvious: today’s particularly high-stress, workaholic culture. In the constant hustle of work and play, those who don’t sleep as easily can look at themselves to blame. While sleep can be the ultimate relaxer, many people have rejected sleep and instead turned toward social and leisure activities to counteract the grind toward productivity. And when they attempt to sleep, they often are still plagued by the desire to either work or play, disparaging sleep as neither fun nor productive. This rupture in sleep leads to many repercussions, completely wrecking a human’s natural circadian rhythm.

Another difference between people who sleep well and people who don’t is, ironically, their focus on falling asleep. People who don’t sleep well often cannot sleep because they become too hyperaware and stressed over whether or not they are falling asleep. Anxiety can grow so heightened that sleepless people then associate the bedroom with wakefulness, rather than rest and calm. Contrastingly, people who sleep well associate the bedroom with calm thoughts, which lead to good sleep. 

Sufficient sleep is the most crucial factor to a productive, rewarding day. Without it, most people can hardly function. In today’s high-stress work environment, we tend to neglect the importance of sleep, and even when sleep is the goal, some people still have trouble falling asleep. While that may just be due to overthinking about the amount of sleep we get, stress and anxiety are the more likely culprits. If you are one who simply cannot get to sleep, the answer may be easier said than done: Just relax.