I often hear my patients who have chronic insomnia talk about what they think a good sleeper should be like. In their perspective, they usually think of a good sleeper as somebody who goes to bed, falls asleep immediately, wakes up 8 hours later feeling refreshed and energized for the day.

These beliefs typically exacerbate their worries about their sleep problems because their sleep seems so far from how “normal people sleep”. These misconceptions lead to negative emotions and cause people with insomnia to act in ways that actually get them further from being a good sleeper.

Therefore, learning more about what typical sleep patterns look like can sometimes have a positive effect, because it takes pressure to be perfect for people with insomnia. In fact, some of my patients have said that they were extremely relieved and even felt a little better about their sleep after hearing how normal sleepers are actually like.

In this article I discuss some of these misconceptions and debunk myths about what it means to be a good sleeper.

sloth sleeping
this one is probably a little too good of a sleeper
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Characteristics of a good sleeper

1. Good sleepers take between 10 to 30 minutes to fall asleep on average. Surprisingly, good sleepers actually don’t fall asleep at a drop of a pin and usually takes somewhere around 15-20 minutes to fall asleep. In sleep medicine, we don’t want people to fall asleep extremely quickly, because that can be indicative of problems such as chronic sleep deprivation and sleep apnea. For people who are sleep deprived, this of course increases risk of accidents and can lead to many health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes (e.g., Chattu et al., 2018)

2. Good sleepers do not necessarily sleep for 8 hours. Our sleeps is genetically determined. Some people are 8 or 9 hour sleepers; others thrive on 6 or 7 – varies from person to person. In fact, striving for 8 hours of sleep when you are a 6 hour sleeper can actually lead to insomnia.

3. Good sleepers do not sleep throughout the night. We actually have dozens of awakenings in the middle of the night! Most are amnestic (i.e., we don’t remember them) because there is low arousal at this time, but people usually remember waking up at least once or twice to go to the bathroom or toss and turn in their sleep. This is completely normal and only begins to move into insomnia territory when we are awake for more than 30 minutes in the middle of the night.

4. Good sleepers can have bad nights! It’s perfectly normal that some nights are simply worse for wear. Life is full of surprises and stressful things are a natural part of life. When we are preparing for an important presentation or exam, or planning a wedding, sleep will get worse. Even good sleepers can have a bad night from time to time.

5. Good sleepers can feel groggy in the morning as well. This is a common phenomenon called sleep inertia, whereby we feel tired when we wake up because the body is still flushing out sleep chemicals for the first 20 to 30 minutes. There are a few strategies we can employ to speed this process along, such as drinking water, getting some sunlight, moving our bodies with some light activity (e.g., walking, yoga), and eating a healthy breakfast, among other strategies to tackle fatigue. But feeling groggy in the morning isn’t necessarily an indicator for insomnia.

6. Good sleeper do not rely on a specific ritual or sleep aid to get sleep. People with insomnia often feel like they can’t sleep without a specific routine or some sort of sleep aid (e.g., sleepy tea; melatonin). Good sleepers might use certain routines (e.g., reading a book before bed) or yoga before they sleep to get into their nighttime rhythm, but they typically use these strategies to enhance their sleep, rather than seeing them as a necessity.

7. Good sleepers do not worry about their sleep. Perhaps the most important difference between a person with insomnia and a good sleeper is that a good sleeper does not worry about their sleep. They may have poor nights or engage in behaviours that aren’t exactly optimal for sleep (e.g., sleeping in, naps, drinking alcohol before bed), but they don’t see a couple poor nights as something very wrong with their body or that their sleep is ‘broken’. They get back on track without excessively worrying about their sleep the next day. On the other hand, people with insomnia will react strongly to poor nights and engage in behaviours that ultimately perpetuate their sleep problems. Ultimately, good sleepers sleep to live; they don’t live to sleep.

I hope this post was helpful in busting a few myths on what it means to be a good sleeper!

Best wishes,


Featured photo credit: Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash