What’s the best time to sleep and wake up? It’s the question everyone’s asking as the ever-ongoing impact of the pandemic and now the prolonged heatwave has severely disrupted our sleep schedules and made good quality, lasting sleep something of a dream.
Getting your sleep schedule back on track means starting from step one - making sure you’re going to bed and waking up at the right times to get enough hours in. How much sleep we need is a number that varies across your life, but the current guidelines from the Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab) recommend that anyone aged between 18 and 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. “The guidelines also recognize that some people need less than this, as few as six hours per night, and others need as many as 10 hours sleep,” explains Dr Greg Potter (opens in new tab), a sleep specialist who focused his Ph.D. research on melatonin and circadian rhythms.
So, how much sleep you need is entirely personal but it's easy to work out out the best time to sleep and wake up for your personal needs based on these figures. Whether you're looking to get to sleep tonight or you're looking to establish a long-term bedtime routine, this is what two medical sleep specialists have to say.
What is the best time to sleep and wake up?
Best time to sleep
As every adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep, the best way to work out your bedtime is to decide what time you’re going to wake up in the morning and then count back up to nine hours. For example, if you need to wake up at 7 am then you should start getting ready for bed no later than midnight.
When figuring out the best time to sleep and wake up, it's important to listen to your body. This summer, for example, many of us have been struggling to sleep in the heat so we're feeling more tired, earlier in the evening. Instead of fighting against this, Dr Potter, who is also the chief science officer at Resilient Nutrition (opens in new tab), says we should embrace our new early bedtime and use tools like brown noise for sleep to improve our routine. "Being practical, your goal should generally be to align your sleep opportunity with when your body craves sleep," he says. "You shouldn't be forcing yourself to go to bed if you aren't sleepy, and you shouldn't be doing things that cause a delay until well after you start feeling a strong urge to sleep."
Best time to wake up
The best time to wake up in the morning is seven to nine hours after you’ve gone to bed. For example, if you went to bed at 11 pm then you should wake up between 6 am (earliest) to 8 am (latest). This will ensure you’re getting enough sleep to recover from the day and allow the body’s processes to work.
Whatever time you choose as the best time to wake up, it should be the same throughout the week if you want to learn how to sleep better. Research from the University of Hiroshima (opens in new tab) found that those who regularly woke themselves up at a scheduled time had more consistent sleep patterns and better quality sleep than those who didn't regularly wake themselves up at a predetermined time.
Does going to sleep before midnight make a difference?
There is some evidence to suggest that falling asleep before midnight is better for overall health. “People who nod off between 10 pm and 11 pm have less risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke than those who go to bed at other times,” explains Sammy Margo (opens in new tab), chartered physiotherapist specializing in sleep.
Researchers in affiliation with the University of Oxford and University of Exeter (opens in new tab) looked at 88,000 participants between 43 and 74 years old over six years and found that just over 3000 of them developed heart and circulatory disease. With answers to various lifestyle questions and readings from a wrist accelerometer, they discovered occurrences were most common among those with sleep times past midnight. They were least common among people who fell asleep within this golden hour of 10 pm to 10:59 pm.
However, these findings are minimal compared to evidence on the health benefits of just getting enough sleep - whatever the best time to sleep and wake up for you is. “The most important thing is that you get the correct amount of sleep,” confirms Margo, who is also the sleep expert for Dreams (opens in new tab), the UK’s number one specialist bed retailer.
Dr Potter agrees. “Insufficient sleep is the worst outcome as it affects most if not all aspects of human biology. Even short-term sleep loss impairs brain function, worsens mood, focus, memory, ability to learn, and increases impulsivity,” he says. “Increased sleepiness from a lack of sleep also increases the risk of traffic accidents and accidents at work. While chronic insufficient sleep, like insomnia, increases the risk of many diseases.”
When compared to people who regularly get a good amount of sleep, those with conditions that prevent them from sleeping are more likely to develop diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as a study by Jichi Medical University School of Medicine (opens in new tab) outlines.
However, just as everyone needs a different amount of sleep, everyone reacts differently to a lack of sleep. “Some people are more resistant to some of the repercussions of sleep loss than others,” says Dr Potter.
Why do some people need more sleep than others?
Some people need more sleep than others because they have more active lifestyles, explains Margo. "If you play sport, need caffeine to get through the day, feel tired during the day, have a manual job or need to remain alert for your job, have higher stress levels, or suffer from a sleep problem, you'll likely need closer to eight hours sleep."
Three other factors can mean the best time to sleep and wake up is different for someone else, Dr Potter adds:
- Age: “In general, sleep needs decrease across the lifespan,” he explains. “While some newborns need as many as 19 hours of sleep per day, some people who are 65 or older might only need five hours.”
- Genetics: “There is a rare phenomenon called familial natural short sleep. This is where adults need just four to six and a half hours of sleep per night to feel their best, and this trait runs in families,” Dr Potter says.
- Lifestyle factors: “A sedentary person who begins a smart exercise program, for example, is likely to need more sleep."
- The light-dark cycle: “People tend to sleep longer during the long nights of winter than the short nights of summer,” he says.
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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