There’s no doubt sleep is an essential part of your life. Without it, you’re left drowsy, exhausted, and unable to work at your best. Sleep well and you should feel less stressed, more energized, and raring to go. But is there an ideal time you should sleep and wake up every day for an optimal night’s rest? Here’s what you should know.
Understand Your Body Clock And Follow Nature’s Rhythm
Your body is naturally tuned to follow the order of day and night to determine sleep patterns. Which is why your circadian rhythms align so closely with the presence or absence of light or (specifically) sunlight. Every morning, when your body is exposed to light, your brain transmits messages to the rest of your body, causing a rise in body temperature. The production of cortisol, a hormone that regulates metabolism, is also stimulated. On the other hand, when light fades, your melatonin levels begin to rise and stay high through the night, promoting sleep onset and supporting sleep.1
Ideal Sleep Time Frame Between 10 PM And 6 AM
If you mimic the pattern of light and dark nature follows, that would mean your optimal sleep time would be around 10 pm and wake-up time would be around 6 am, to align broadly with the sun’s setting and rising. Some experts push this back to a sleep window that starts at 8 pm. Getting to bed within the window of 8 pm to 12 am should get you adequate restful sleep that includes both the dream-rich REM sleep and restorative non-REM and deep sleep.2
Your strongest sleep drive as an adult is generally between 2 and 4 am, so you must ensure that you are definitely asleep at this point. The other time of day you’ll have a similar urge to sleep is between 1 and 3 pm in the afternoon. If you have slept well at night, the afternoon phase won’t hit you as hard. Teenagers tend to experience their dips later in the night, close to 3 and 7 am and between 2 and 5 pm in the afternoon. If a teen hasn’t had enough sleep the previous day, the circadian dip may last as long as till 9 or 10 am – which is why you’ll see the classic teen behavior of sleeping in.3
Determine Your Waking Time And Work Backward To Arrive At An Ideal Bedtime
So what does this mean for your own bedtime? According to the experts, while there may be some golden windows to sleep, you don’t need to have the same bedtime as everyone else. There is leeway for you to work out a time that suits your lifestyle and still gives you the rest you need. How do you do this? Follow these simple steps that are recommended to fix bedtimes for school-going kids but can work just as well for you.4
- Work out what time you have to wake up. This timing must allow you enough time to start your day off comfortably without a mad dash in the morning.
- Determine how much sleep you require. Which is 7 to 9 hours for most adults, 8 to 10 hours for older teens, 9 to 11 hours for 6- to13-year-olds, and as much as 14 hours for pre-schoolers.5
- Now work backward from your ideal wake-up time. So if you need to wake up by 6 am and are an adult, you should be asleep 8 hours earlier on average. Which means 10 pm is your ideal bedtime.
Don’t Delay Bedtime Beyond 12 AM: Sleeping Past Midnight Linked To Risk Of Psychological Issues
If you love staying up late into the wee hours, it could make you more prone to psychological issues. Late rising linked to eveningness has been linked to a raised risk of bulimic behavior, depression, and seasonal affective disorders (SAD).6 As one study on Japanese workers found, a late bedtime has a significant association with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms.7 In another sample of undergraduate students, a higher level of focus on the negative aspects of their lives, a phenomenon dubbed repetitive negative thinking, was found among those who were active late into the night and, consequently, slept later or delayed their sleep.8
Wake Up Early: Rising Early Has Its Benefits
Rising early in the morning helps you get some clear time to plan your day or even your long-term goals. It gives you a sense of control and makes you more proactive.9 It could also make you more positive about things – which is why the phrase “happy as a lark” (another early riser) makes perfect sense.10 Unlike night owls who have a tendency to be more sedentary11, early risers may be more active, as one study on children found12
So what is this ideal wake up time? You could take a cue from ayurveda.
Ayurveda Suggests Waking Up At Brahma Muhurtha (Pre-Sunrise)
Ayurveda believes that an early start is best for your body. Called the “brahma muhurtha,” the time to set your alarm clock is exactly 1 hour and 36 minutes before sunrise.13 Rising a little before sunrise is considered optimal so that you can truly synchronize your energy levels with the sun. This time is calm and soothing and is also a good time to meditate.14
If you wake up later than 6 am, it puts you squarely in what ayurveda calls the “kapha” phase of the day, characterized by heaviness and sluggishness. This will translate into your system wanting to slow down too.15
A Regular Sleep Routine Is The Most Important Factor
From Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Thatcher, Anna Wintour, to Jack Dorsey, a lot of successful people down the ages have chosen to start their day at the crack of dawn – or even earlier in the case of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who favors a 3.45 am start. What is emerging, however, is that while early starts have their benefits and staying up too late can be detrimental to mental health and affect you in other ways, even more important is ensuring regular sleep times and schedules.16 Which is why one study on sleep patterns of students found that those with irregular sleep schedules with different bedtime and waking times during the week did much worse on academic performance than their peers who stuck to a sleep routine.17
Get Your 7–8 Hours Of Sleep Or Risk Fatigue, Concentration Issues, Or Health Problems
Besides having a fixed bedtime and wake time, regardless of what time you usually go to bed, there’s a minimum amount of sleep your system needs for it to cope with the stresses of daily life, process the day’s events, create memories, and revive and refresh itself to take on a new day. Like we said before, adults need an estimated 8 hours of sleep, but this number varies between individuals. Some can make do with 6 to 7 hours, while others don’t feel well-rested unless they’ve got at least 8 hours. Children should sleep for a little longer and about 9 or 10 hours will suffice depending on how old they are. The elderly tend to have one phase of deep sleep lasting around 3 to 4 hours, after which they rouse easily and dream less.18
Skip your sleep and you could find yourself constantly tired, have trouble concentrating, feel drowsy during the day, and even have issues with decision making. Some people may even slip into depression or could develop an elevated risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.19
Fix Sleep Deficits When You Can’t Help But Sleep Late
Sometimes circumstances make it impossible for you to sleep at what is considered a good bedtime. Shift work at the office, late night meetings, jobs where you work with people in a different time zone can all force you to keep late nights on a regular basis. Parents to young children too may find themselves awake at odd hours because of the baby’s erratic sleep schedule. If that’s the case, you’ll need to work out a sleep pattern that delivers the rest you need when you are home – even if it means catching short naps in between to overcome daytime drowsiness. Don’t worry yourself over early bedtimes. Remember, the duration of the sleep and the maintenance of a regular sleep schedule are just as important. And this you can control – even with your constraints.
What if at some point you can go back to night sleep at a proper time but aren’t able to fall asleep early? A good way to get back to normal is to wake up quite early at the same time every morning – no matter what time you fell asleep the night before. Use an alarm clock to help you. Make sure that you don’t go to bed again before about 10 pm that night. If you do this for a few nights, you should soon start to fall asleep naturally at the right time.