Most people sleep during the hours that make the most sense for their professional, family, and social lives. Their awakening times are largely determined by these responsibilities and commitments, whereas when they go to sleep often depends on their personal preferences and evening activities.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per day—that’s a given. Figuring out how to get that amount is another story. If you need to wake up at 7:00am, you can count backwards eight hours and set a bedtime of 11:00pm. This is a good starting point, but there are individual variations when it comes to the best hours for sleep. For example, some people are larks (morning types), while others are owls (night lovers), and still others are in between these patterns. What you are depends on your individual circadian rhythm, your 24-hour internal clock that regulates sleepiness, alertness, and various bodily functions.
In other words, there’s no magical one-size-fits-all schedule that suits everyone. The best approach is to match your sleep times to your physiological rhythms and get the seven to nine hours of sleep that you need regularly.
But there are optimal windows of opportunity, starting with a bedtime between 8:00pm and 12:00am. With that bedtime window and your pre-determined wake-up time in mind, experiment with slight variations and see what works well for you. If you wake up an hour before your alarm goes off, try moving your bedtime a bit later; similarly, if you go to bed and find yourself lying awake, desperately trying to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, you may be trying to go to sleep too early. On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling to stay awake until the bedtime you’ve set, try shifting it a bit earlier.
Once you discover the optimal hours of sleep that work for you, keep them consistent during the weekdays and weekends, which will help keep your body’s internal clock on schedule. Doing so will make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep night after night and get the good quality shuteye that will help you feel and function at your best.