What Are the Best Hours to Sleep?

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The times of day and night when you wake up and fall asleep make a significant difference to your sleep quality. Maintaining regular bedtimes that are appropriate for your schedule can help you wake up feeling refreshed and minimize daytime sleepiness. We discuss the best times to sleep and wake up based on the natural sleep-wake cycle.

The best time to sleep is at night, roughly between midnight and 7 a.m. Although exact sleep-wake times can vary from person to person, humans generally evolved to be active during the day. This preference is reinforced by exposure to bright light during daytime hours and reduced levels of light at night.

Certain hormones that help regulate the sleep-wake cycle show regular peaks in activity at specific times of the day. Trying to sleep at times that are at odds with the biological clock can make it difficult to drift off. If you do manage to fall asleep, the sleep may be of poorer quality. You may wake up more frequently during the sleep period and obtain less sleep overall.

What Time Should I Go To Bed?

Based on how long you generally sleep, you can find your ideal bedtime by counting seven to nine hours backwards from the time you need to wake up. The natural sleep-wake rhythm of the human body causes a strong urge to sleep in the leadup to midnight.

A regular sleep schedule that matches the natural pattern of daylight-darkness in a 24-hour day is associated with improved sleep quality. By contrast, multiple rapid changes to the sleep-wake cycle or regularly sleeping during the day may contribute to long-term health effects. This is why experts recommend maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule even on the weekends.

What Time Should I Wake Up?

Those with set schedules may need to wake up at a specific time to go to work or school. For those with the flexibility to choose, most people find it easiest to wake up in the morning after 7 a.m. once the sun has risen. One large study found that the average wake-up time for adults was 7:43 a.m., but this varied significantly depending on whether people identified as morning or evening types.

Exposure to light during waking hours helps regulate sleep-wake patterns. People who need to be active during the night instead of the day may benefit from cueing their internal clock with artificial light of 5,000 to 10,000 lux when they wake up, and wearing sunglasses to mimic nighttime as their ideal sleep time gets near.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults obtain between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. School-age children require nine to 11 hours, and adolescents should get eight to 10 hours. Older adults may find that seven to eight hours are sufficient.

While these recommendations apply to most healthy individuals, there may be variations in the ideal sleep length from person to person.

Signs You Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is a highly active process that is crucial for physical and mental health, and getting poor-quality or insufficient sleep can cause reduced functioning the next day. Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Daytime tiredness
  • Feeling unrefreshed
  • Trouble staying alert
  • Difficulty focusing and learning new concepts
  • Longer reaction times
  • Reduced performance at work or school
  • Negative mood
  • Problems interacting with others
  • Hyperactivity (in children)

People who are sleep-deprived have an increased risk of car crashes, work accidents, and other injuries. Long-term sleep deprivation can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other health problems.

Signs You Are Sleeping Too Much

Oversleeping on days off may also make it more difficult to fall asleep at the right time when you resume work.

If you continue to feel tired even after obtaining adequate sleep, you may have an underlying health disorder that affects the quality of your sleep. In some cases, oversleeping can be a symptom of common conditions like depression, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. Research suggests oversleeping is correlated with a higher risk of mortality, although it is not clear if oversleeping causes mortality or if people oversleep due to pre-existing health conditions.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Performing certain sleep hygiene habits during the day and night can help you regulate your sleep schedule. Notably, you can help prompt your internal clock by getting exposure to sunlight once a day for at least 30 minutes and by making sure you experience enough darkness right before and during sleep. Light therapy at the same time of day every morning or midday can also help train your body to wake up around the same time each morning.

Other lifestyle changes that may improve your sleep include:

  • Setting your alarm for the same time every day, including weekends
  • Getting regular exercise in the morning or early afternoon
  • Avoiding caffeine six hours before bed and alcohol three hours before bed
  • Quitting smoking and vaping
  • Reducing fluid and food intake in the evening
  • Taking naps between 20 to 30 minutes early in the day
  • Implementing a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine
  • Creating a cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment
  • Getting out of bed if you cannot sleep after 20 minutes and only returning when you feel sleepy

Talk to your doctor if you continue to experience sleep problems after adopting proactive sleep hygiene habits. They may be able to identify and treat an underlying condition, change your medication prescription if it interferes with your sleep, or refer you to a specialist if necessary. Shift workers and others with unique sleep needs may want to ask for advice on supplementing sleep hygiene practices with sleep aids or light therapy.

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