We all know the importance of sleep, but how much is enough and when should we hit the proverbial hay? If you are a rule follower and you want to achieve what the expert recommends seven to nine hours for adults under 65, then you want to reverse engineer your sleep time based on the time you need to wake up.
But most of us should aim to go to sleep within two to three hours after sunset “as this is consistent with our natural release of melatonin,” said Dr. Abhinav Singh, medical director, Indiana Sleep Center, expert on SleepFoundation.organd co-author of Sleep for Better: 7 Simple Steps to Better Sleep.
So if you’re in the United States, that means going to bed between 10 pm and 11 pm in the spring and summer. It is important to sleep before midnight, added Dr. Allison Brager, a neurobiologist with expertise in sleep and circadian rhythms, because it “optimizes the time spent in restorative non-REM. [rapid eye movement] sleep.”
Singh also recommends treating bedtime and waking as a “combined rhythm,” which is sure to also take care of the transitions from waking to sleeping. For this, it is recommended that you do the following:
- Keep a regular bedtime and wake up time
- Get light exposure, preferably sunlight, in the morning
- Avoid large doses of caffeine throughout the day, but especially after 2 pm
- Avoid large meals, alcohol and exercise near bedtime
- Avoid bright light exposure at night
“Quality sleep is the foundation on which optimal health is built. Even if nutrition and exercise are optimal, without proper sleep their benefits will be greatly reduced,” said Singh. “Sleep is essential for metabolic health, immune health, muscle recovery, optimal brain function and mental health. Better sleep will not only add years to your life, but life to your years.
But you shouldn’t embarrass yourself if you fall outside the range, like quality of your sleep is often more important than quantity.
“A lot of the work I’ve done is changing the shame and pressure around sleep and wake times. A good night’s sleep is essential for a positive, productive day—so I understand why many of us seek of sleep secrets,” says Nancy H. Rothstein of The Sleep Ambassador. “But hard and fast rules like ‘5 am club’ or setting a mandatory eight hours does more harm than good, making people feel like they’ve failed or fallen behind.”
Instead, Rothstein suggests using a sleep tracking device or app that monitors your body movement and heart rate to help determine your body’s natural sleep and wake times. However, if you suspect you may have one sleep disorderyou want to consult your doctor to get checked before taking medicine.
“Consistency is key for sleep and wake times,” says Rothstein. “Our circadian rhythm, our body clock, works best with consistency. In turn, we optimize our overall health and well-being.”