Does when you sleep impact your sleep quality? Is there a consensus on the best time to sleep according to science?
Many of us are either an “early-bird” or a “night-owl” – does this have any effect on your sleep? Quality sleep is essential to maintaining optimal health and wellbeing, feeling as good as possible, and functioning safely and well. Occasional nights without enough sleep won’t be detrimental for most of us, but overall, a consistent sleep schedule is very important.
It might be surprising to learn that you don’t just need to get enough sleep, but that when you sleep plays a huge role as well.
According to the US-based National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of good quality sleep every night. This is required to maximise physical and psychological health and to remain alert during the day. (Children and adolescents need nine to eleven hours of sleep every night; older adults and seniors only require seven to eight hours nightly.)
But don’t be fooled into thinking that when you get those hours of sleep is irrelevant! Scientific evidence demonstrates the benefits of sleeping during specific hours.
When is the best time to sleep according to science?
When you go to sleep and wake up has a big impact on how well and how deeply you sleep. This will vary somewhat among people, but for most, the best sleep is achieved in the naturally dark hours, going to sleep between 10 p.m. and midnight and waking by approximately 7 a.m.
A lot of people naturally need to go to sleep earlier, and some who feel and perform better at night can go to sleep closer to midnight (but they must be able to sleep for the recommended eight hours or so thereafter).
Most of our sleep schedules are driven by our need to get up at a particular time for work, education, or other responsibilities. As such, sleeping times should be based around one’s required waking time and then counting back seven to nine hours for the ideal bedtime. For those who are not locked into a specific waking time, it’s generally easiest to wake up after the sun has risen and natural sunlight can flood the bedroom. In NZ, the ideal waking time is usually between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
The reason for this is directly linked to your circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms explained
Your body clock is a natural biological timing device that relies on the interaction of protein molecules with the cells in the body. The “master clock” in the hypothalamus of the brain coordinates proteins and helps them sync properly.
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles. They are intrinsic to your sleep and just one aspect of your body’s internal clock.
Most living things are driven by circadian rhythms, including everything from humans to animals, plants, and microbes. These physical, mental, and behavioural processes respond to light and darkness, and influence many, many functions from the release of hormones to body temperature, hunger, satiety, digestion, and sleep.
The network in the brain that manages sleep-wake cycles receives input from the eyes; light information is transferred to the hypothalamus via the optic nerve. This information controls the release of the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. More melatonin is released when there is less light entering the eyes. As a result, the circadian rhythm triggers the urge to go to sleep in most of us by midnight at the latest.
What affects your circadian rhythms? Many factors can cause circadian rhythms to be altered or disrupted and go out of sync – including (but not limited to) shift work, jet lag, stress, genetic issues, and light from electronic devices which directly affects dopamine in the brain. These disruptions can lead to sleep issues, obesity, diabetes, mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder), and other medical issues.
Why a consistent sleep/wake schedule is crucial
Exposure to light during the waking hours plays a huge role in the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. Furthermore, maintaining a regular sleep/wake schedule is crucial to feeling refreshed, functioning well, and avoiding daytime sleepiness. It is also associated with overall better sleep quality. Rapid changes to one’s sleep cycle (e.g. in international travellers and shift workers) or regularly sleeping during the day can lead to various negative health outcomes. Sleep scientists and doctors recommend maintaining a consistent sleep/wake schedule, including on weekends and during holiday periods.
This means that when you sleep according to science isn’t a fixed timeframe, it’s more about consistency, and following our natural circadian rhythm.
Tips for a Healthy Sleep Schedule
- Set an alarm so you wake at the same time every day (including weekends)
- Exercise regularly, but preferably not late in the day
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
- Avoid drinking alcohol 3 hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, black tea, cola) within 6 hours of bedtime
- Don’t eat a large meal before bed
- Limit drinking fluids before bedtime
- Try to avoid daytime napping or only nap for up to 30 minutes by mid-afternoon
- If you nod off in front of the TV in the evening, go to bed
- Don’t smoke or vape
- Your bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark
- Don’t lay in bed for more than 20 minutes if you can’t go to sleep. Instead, get up or read until you feel sleepy (but not on a backlit device or smartphone)
Why does sleep quality matter so much?
Some signs you’re not getting enough sleep include:
- Feeling fatigued when you wake up
- Feeling sleepy or sluggish during the day
- Mid-afternoon slump
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or remaining alert
- Memory or learning issues
- Performance issues
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety
- In children, hyperactivity and attention deficit
Failure to sleep enough good quality sleep also leads to a higher risk of accidents and injury, especially on the road and in the workplace. Chronic substandard sleep can play a role in the development of depression, anxiety disorders, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers.
Interestingly, people who sleep too much (even just on weekends and on days off) are also more likely to experience insomnia and difficulty falling asleep. Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, or other medical conditions which require attention. Moreover, snoring can be a direct cause of poor sleep quality – so it’s important to take action to prevent snoring.
How to stop snoring and improve your sleep
Prevention of snoring is among the most effective ways to improve the quality of your sleep. Snore-free sleep is deeper, more restful, and better for your health and wellbeing. While certain lifestyle changes (like losing weight if you need to, exercising regularly, not smoking, and sleeping on your side) are helpful, one of the most effective ways to prevent snoring is to use ApneaRx.
ApneaRx is a mandibular advancement device that is worn in the mouth while you sleep. It is medically designed and engineered and boasts a unique adjustment feature which allows users to micro adjust for optimal results. Widely recommended by medical professionals, ApneaRx is a Class 1 Registered Medical Device used successfully all over the world and could be your answer to a more healthier and peaceful night’s sleep.