Optimize your sleep schedule for a more satisfying, healthy lifestyle.
Over the course of your life, your sleeping patterns change—from an early bedtime as a child, to a late bedtime as a teenager, and somewhere in between as an adult. Figuring out the best time to go to bed and wake up is key to getting quality sleep that leaves you refreshed, well-rested, and ready to live out a healthy lifestyle.
What is a Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour clock that humans and mammals follow. These rhythms help regulate our sleep patterns as well as our appetite, digestion, hormones, and temperature. When it comes to sleep, our circadian rhythm mirrors the light and darkness outside. When it’s dark, your body might start telling you it’s time to sleep. (It’s part of the reason Daylight Savings Time can cause a temporary disruption to your sleep patterns.) Going to bed and waking up in sync with the natural daylight can help your body better regulate its sleep needs.
Best Times to Sleep
In general, the earlier you get to bed, the better. Some experts suggest that the ideal sleep time includes getting to bed between 8pm and 10pm. This mimics our natural circadian rhythm and allows a window of several hours for REM sleep . You can also try to calculate the best time to get to sleep based on when you need to wake up. Simply subtract 8 hours, plus about 15 minutes to allow your body to fall asleep. That should give you enough time to settle into quality sleep. You can adjust this guideline based on what is most sustainable for you. Your ideal bedtime should be one that you can maintain consistently week-to-week.
Best Times to Wake Up
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here. Studies suggest that there’s no one-size-fits-all healthiest time to wake up. Instead, consistency is far more important. Keeping the same wake-up time every day has more of an impact on your sleep habits than when exactly you wake up. If you wake up at 7am every day for work, try to keep that schedule even on the weekends. That consistency allows your body to adapt and get better at releasing hormones that keep you energized and awake. Some studies have shown that those who wake up earlier tend to be more proactive and successful, though, so it might be worth trying a sleep schedule where you get to bed and wake up earlier.
Getting Enough Sleep
The amount of sleep you need depends on your age. As we get older, the amount of sleep we need decreases. While an older adult might only need 7 to 8 hours of sleep, teenagers will need 8 to 10 to be happy and healthy, and infants’ clock in at between 14 and 17 hours of sleep a day! Most adults need at least seven hours to feel rested. However, the quality of your sleep is arguably even more important than the amount of time you spend asleep. Sleep disorders, like insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome, can get in the way of a good night’s sleep—which is why it’s so important to get the right sleep equipment to mitigate the impact of these conditions. In the short term, not getting enough sleep can impact your work performance, your mood, your stress levels, and even your personal relationships. Long term sleep deprivation has been linked with health conditions like depression, diabetes, and even heart attacks or strokes.
How to Keep a Good Sleep Schedule
Although most people focus on the quantity and quality of sleep they get, sleep researchers have demonstrated that a consistent sleep schedule is just as important. In fact, a recent study found that regardless of how many hours patients slept, having a variable sleep schedule significant affected their mood and depression. Creating a consistent sleep and wake schedule is key to good sleep hygiene and will set you on a path to more restful, satisfying sleep. If you struggle with maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, try incorporating some of these tips into your daily routine:
- Prioritize your sleep: we all lead busy lives with countless chores, obligations, and work responsibilities. However, neglecting your sleep can have serious long-term health consequences and can negatively impact your ability to functional optimally. If you ever struggle with insomnia or have a hard time falling back asleep, it may be time to make some changes.
- Stay away from electronics before bed: it can be tempting to wind down on your phone while in bed, but all that bright light from your phone, TV, or computer screen can actually inhibit the production of melatonin—a key hormone that facilitates sleep.
- Exercise during the day: research has shown that regular exercise can help facilitate better sleep. If you struggle with maintaining a good sleep schedule, exercising during the day can help.
- Avoid caffeine after the morning: caffeine can be a great tool to help you get energized and kickstart your day, but consuming caffeine close to your bedtime can significantly impact your sleep for the worse. A recent study found that consuming caffeine six hours prior to bedtime was significantly disruptive for sleep duration and quality.
Finding the best time to go to sleep and wake up, and following that sleep schedule consistently, is an easy way to make sure you give your body the rest it deserves. Making these simple lifestyle changes can have a huge positive impact on your physical and mental health and well-being—so that you can continue to make the most of every day.