Written by: Lana Adler
Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Sherrie Neustein
Updated November 20, 2020
The old saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise,” but what time should you really go to bed? The amount of sleep needed to feel restored and healthy varies widely among adults. However, the recommended amount is between 7-9 hours. While it’s not known exactly why people need sleep beyond survival and good health, common positive benefits of sleep are feelings of alertness and functionality during the daytime. If you’re waking up feeling less than well-rested and relying on coffee throughout the day to function, you may benefit from going to bed earlier.
Why Do People Stay Up Late?
There are a few likely reasons people stay up late at night. A common cause is simply out of habit. Some people have evening routines, such as watching TV or playing video games. Others, like university students “cramming” for a test or writing a paper, have work that must be completed under a deadline. Bedtime procrastination is another cause, where sleepers know they should be going to bed, but choose to not to anyway. All these habits lead sleepers to stay up late at night, which often results in tiredness or exhaustion the following day.
Some sleepers struggle to relax their minds and bodies when trying to fall asleep. Stress is a common reason for poor sleep quality. Other people may suffer from sleep disorders like excessive daytime sleepiness or sleep-onset insomnia. Insomnia is also linked to mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, both of which can affect sleep.
Why is a Sleep Schedule Important?
A poor or irregular sleep schedule has negative effects. Without enough sleep or with irregular sleep habits, people can wake up feeling unrefreshed. They might have bouts of irritability or even inability to stay awake during the daytime. In some cases, poor sleep can also lead to mental health disorders, such as depression.
A regular sleep schedule -- going to sleep and waking up at consistent times -- can prevent these negative outcomes. Research shows that waking up at a regular time, even on the weekends, is important for overall sleep hygiene.
Tips to Get to Sleep Earlier
For quality sleep, you should first remember that what you do during the day affects how you sleep at night. Experts recommend several steps to take during the day and in the hours before bedtime.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is important to overall health; it reduces stress and it promotes sleep. However, it is important to not exercise too close to bedtime, as that can stimulate the nervous system, which can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
- Avoid stimulants. Caffeinated beverages and foods, including coffee, energy drinks, and certain chocolates, are stimulants that can interfere with sleep, especially if taken in the evening.
- Avoid nicotine. Nicotine in any form -- including cigarettes, pills, or patches -- is linked to sleep problems. Healthcare professionals recommend quitting smoking to promote better sleep.
- Avoid daytime naps. Daytime napping can worsen sleeplessness for some sleepers, especially those with insomnia. Certain groups of people, such as the elderly and shift workers, may benefit from short naps of no more than 30 minutes. These should be taken at the same time each day.
- Use your bed for only sleep or sex. Avoid doing any other activities in bed, such as working, reading, eating, or watching TV.
How to Make a Good Bedtime Routine
If you want to go to bed early, in addition to these good daytime habits, it is recommended that you develop a consistent routine leading up to bedtime to “set the mood” for sleeping.
An important step is to avoid blue lights before bedtime. Blue light enhances alertness and therefore can disturb the circadian rhythm. Common culprits are cell phones, computer screens, and TVs. It is recommended that such devices not be used in the hours leading up to bedtime. Set a time for yourself to put these devices away, like 30 minutes or an hour before you want to sleep.
Other bedtime routines might be taking a bath, brushing your teeth, and setting your alarm. Consider giving yourself some time to wind down with a relaxing activity, such as reading or meditating.
You will also want to ensure you have a good sleep environment. The place where you sleep should be dark, appropriately cool, and quiet. Take steps to ensure you have a quality space for sleeping. An eye mask or heavy curtains can eliminate unwanted light. You can use earplugs, a fan, or a white-noise machine to eliminate disruptive sounds.
Also, consider the bed itself. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress that meets your needs and prevents unnecessary stress on pressure points. The right pillow or pillows can also affect your ability to fall asleep. Some sleepers benefit not only from pillows behind the head and neck but also from pillows between the knees or under the waist.
If you want to build a routine where you go to bed significantly earlier than you typically do now, you should approach the change incrementally. For example, you could set your bedtime back 15 minutes each night until you reach your desired time for going to bed.
Remember that developing a routine for going to bed early takes time. If you’re unable to fall asleep 20 minutes after climbing into bed, it’s recommended you get out of bed and return when you are sleepy.
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