We all know how transformative a good night’s sleep can be. Getting the right amount of sleep means you’re well-rested, focused, and have the energy to take on anything. On the other hand, lack of quality sleep can leave you tired and unmotivated. If you seem to be constantly waking up late or unable to fall asleep when you lay down to rest, it could be time to reset your sleep routine.
One way to reset your sleep routine is to change your bedtime. If you go to bed too early or stay up too late, a small change could affect how well you sleep. Many people ask, “When should I go to sleep?” There’s no right answer for everyone, but here’s the science and math to help you find a better bedtime.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel their best, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many of us, the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep works well. However, some people find they need much more. Long sleepers need more than 9 hours of sleep to function well.
The amount of sleep we need is influenced by our age. Children and teens need more sleep than adults, for example. How much sleep you need also depends on your genetics, health conditions, lifestyle, and environment. If you’re not sure, aim for the suggested 7-9 hours and monitor how you feel.
If you don’t get enough sleep you’ll start to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. It’s harder to concentrate, feel motivated, and be at your best if you feel tired. You’re also more likely to yawn, feel irritable, and be forgetful. To help restore the balance, increase the amount of rest you’re getting. The effects of sleep deprivation usually clear up once you’ve caught up on your sleep.
When Should I Go to Sleep?
There’s no set time when you should go to sleep. We all lead different lives and have work, school, and other commitments that shape our schedules.
One way to find the optimum bedtime is to work backward. Start with the time you’ll need to be awake in the morning — whether that’s for school, work, or family life. From here, use the recommended 7-9 hours to find your new sleep schedule. If you know you need more or less sleep, adjust the hours accordingly.
The Importance of Sleep Cycles
It’s not just how much sleep you get that matters. Sleep quality is just as influential. There’s a difference between enough sleep and good sleep. Throughout the night you’ll naturally move from deep sleep to light sleep, and back again. These sleep cycles happen several times a night.
Your body needs to get the right amount of REM sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which is the most noticeable characteristic of this phase of sleep. It’s in REM sleep that you dream most vividly, and your breathing can become faster and irregular. Our brains are very active during REM sleep, and this is when our memories and learnings are consolidated.
Light sleep is non-REM sleep, so called because it’s the easiest type of sleep to be woken from. It’s much easier to be disturbed by noise or sound during light sleep, which is why it’s best to keep your bedroom free from distractions. The good news is we don’t spend much time in light sleep — only around 3% of our total sleep time — as it’s a transitional period between REM and deep sleep. Light sleep is also referred to as Stages 1 and 2 of sleep.
Deep Sleep, also known as Stage 3, is focused on the body and restoration. You don’t dream during deep sleep. Instead, this type of sleep is where your body repairs, recovers, and rebuilds. You’re also less likely to be disturbed by external distractions than you would be in light sleep.
Ideally, you want to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. Interrupting a sleep cycle can cause you to feel sleepy and confused—even if you’ve slept a full 8 hours. A typical sleep cycle lasts for 90 minutes, so work out your ideal bedtime based on 90 minute periods. This might mean you head to bed at 11:15 p.m. ready to start your day at 7:00 a.m. It takes most of us 15 minutes to fall asleep, so going to bed 15 minutes earlier means you’re less likely to interrupt your sleep cycle when you wake.
Sleep Schedule Examples
Once you’re familiar with the science behind sleep cycles, you can start to plan your bedtime around them. Let’s take a look at some examples. Here we’ll take a few common wake times and suggest some optimum sleep schedules.
|If you need to wake up at....||You should to go sleep between...|
|6 a.m.||8:45 p.m. to 10:15 p.m.|
|7 a.m.||9:45 p.m. to 11:15 p.m.|
|8 a.m.||10:45 p.m. to 12:15 p.m.|
|9 a.m.||11:45 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.|
It’s important to try and stick to a regular schedule when it comes to sleep. This helps your body settle into a healthy sleep schedule with the right amount of sleep-wake cycles every night.
Sometimes the reality of life can interrupt our sleeping patterns. You may need to stay up late a few nights to work on a project. This could lead to sleeping in longer on the weekend to recover your sleep debt. The goal here is to maintain a balance so you stay alert and refreshed. As soon as you can, return to your usual sleep schedule.
Watch out for signs of tiredness too. If you find yourself yawning and unable to keep your eyes open, it’s time to head to bed — even if it’s an hour earlier than your usual sleep time.
Are You an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
Experts suggest we all have a certain chronotype when it comes to sleep. This is linked to our internal body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. It creates cycles of alertness and sleepiness that influence how we live our lives and when we sleep.
The most well-known chronotypes are night owls and early birds. Night owls find they’re most awake and focused towards the end of the day. They often struggle with mornings and feel sluggish when they wake. Early birds are the opposite of this — they’re more alert in the mornings and feel tiredness kick in as the day ends.
For some people, it’s not as clear cut. There’s a group of people that find they have the same high energy in both the morning and evening. Others feel sluggish and tired throughout the day with no obvious peak in alertness.
If you’re a night owl, going to bed earlier to wake up earlier can be tough. If you already feel groggy in the morning, the last thing you want is to enhance that by interrupting a sleep cycle. Knowing your chronotype and being smart about your sleep cycles means you have a better chance of feeling refreshed and well-rested.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Knowing when you should go to sleep is the start of a healthy sleep schedule. You now have a set time to fall asleep that you can treat as a deadline. You’re also equipped with more knowledge of how your sleep cycles work and when you’re most energized.
It can be tempting to think that’s all there is to it. The truth is we all know it’s not as easy as just climbing into bed and falling asleep. Even with the best intentions, it can be hard to fall asleep sometimes.
To help you sleep better, try some of these tips for good sleep hygiene:
- Go to sleep at roughly the same time every night, including your days off.
- Prioritize your sleep and be guarded about interrupting your sleep schedule.
- Start an evening routine and include relaxing activities like having a warm bath and reading.
- Create a calm, distraction-free environment for sleeping.
- Be mindful of what you eat and drink and how this could affect your sleep.
- Avoid electronic devices and bright screens for an hour or more before bed.
Remember it takes time to form a new habit. You won’t necessarily see a big improvement in how refreshed you feel overnight. Stick with it, and your new bedtime combined with better sleep hygiene should make you feel more rested.
The Right Sleep and Wake Times Matter
The science behind sleep provides a lot of clues on when we should go to bed. From our circadian rhythm to sleep cycles, there’s a connection between when we sleep and how well-rested we feel.
Now that you know more about sleep cycles and the different stages of sleep, it’s easier to set your ideal bedtime. You can create an evening routine that promotes sleep and prepares you to wake up refreshed when you need to. With these healthy sleep habits and the natural cues of tiredness, you’re well on your way to figuring out the ideal time to go to sleep.