(Written by Natalie Jones)
As a child, you were probably put to bed at a certain time. As an adult, of course, you have a great deal more autonomy, meaning that your bedtime isn’t so strict. Now, if you aren’t getting the best possible sleep, you may be wondering if your bedtime actually matters.
Well, the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine. This is because there are a lot of factors that come into play here. For a more thorough explanation of this, take a look at the information presented below:
Optimal Sleep and Bedtime
A multidisciplinary expert panel commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that the average adult should be sleeping between 7 and 9 hours a day. Now, this sleep period isn’t just a guideline. Not getting enough rest each day can have serious consequences.
For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis showed that people who had shortened sleep durations could have an increased risk of death. In addition to this, a lack of sleep also resulted in symptoms such as reduced immunity, poor memory, and impaired decision making.
As you can imagine your optimal sleep duration automatically ties in with your bedtime. Now, you are already aware of what time you need to wake up every morning to start your day. So, all you have to do is count backwards and identify what your ideal bedtime should be. Thus, considering the constraints of your daily waking time, your bedtime really does matter.
Tying In Sleep Cycles to Bedtime
Now, for the sake of scientific argument, let’s assume that you can wake up at any time you want. So, when your time restrictions are removed, do you still have to have a proper bedtime? While you might think that it is not necessary, it actually is.
You may be aware that the human sleep cycle consists of two types – REM and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of three separate stages. Throughout the night, you will cycle through all of these stages several times.
However, as Dr. Matt Walker of the University of California, Berkeley explains it, actual sleep quality can shift throughout the night. This means that as the night wears on, the ratio of non-REM to REM will shift. Thus, non-REM sleep takes place in the earlier parts of the night, while REM sleep becomes more prominent during the daybreak.
Therefore, when you go to bed later, you will find that your sleep will probably be dominated by REM sleep. This can become an issue because both types of sleep are just as important. So, if you aren’t getting enough of non-REM sleep, it can impact your health.
Understand, non-REM sleep is associated with restfulness. When you spend the appropriate amount of time in this stage, you wake up feeling refreshed. This is because during this period, your heart rate and breathing will lower and your muscles will relax.
Thus, missing out on it could result in a feeling of grogginess or sleepiness the next day. Depending on the kind of work that you do, this could have a number of repercussions. This is why Dr. Walker recommends that you go to bed between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. each day.
Of course, such a bedtime may not be possible for everyone. So, let’s take a look at that next.
How Natural Circadian Rhythms Add a Twist
Do you find yourself getting sleepy at a similar time each day? Well, this is no coincidence. Rather, it is your body’s natural circadian rhythm at work. Now, there are a few things that you need to know about this particular system.
To start with, the natural elements of your body plays a role in the circadian rhythm. This is why each person’s is different. Such a phenomenon is commonly known as “night owls” or “morning larks”. It is the tendency for each individual to want to go to sleep earlier or later in the night.
At the same time, the circadian rhythm can be affected by external factors as well. The most powerful one is sunlight. It often tells the body when it is time to stir and when to go to sleep as well.
Clearly, your specific circadian rhythm can make it difficult for you to go to sleep during the period specified by experts. If your body falls into the night owl category, you may find yourself only getting sleepy well after midnight.
Resetting the Circadian Rhythm
If your circadian rhythm results in a much later bedtime, there is a good chance that you aren’t getting as much sleep as you need. Fortunately, there may be a way to readjust your circadian rhythm so that it is more receptive to an earlier bedtime.
In the above section, it was mentioned that the circadian rhythm isn’t just controlled by biological factors, it is also affected by light. Let’s delve into this a little further. Understand, the circadian rhythm is regulated by a structure in the hypothalamus known as the SCN. In turn, the SCN responds to light.
Therefore, there has been some research done in light therapy and resetting your circadian rhythm. When individuals are exposed to sunlight as soon as they wake up, it helps to calibrate their circadian rhythm to a certain degree. In short, you are more likely to feel awake and energetic.
Conversely, exposing yourself to less and less light closer to your bedtime can have the opposite effect. Less light can inform the SCN that it is time to begin the biological routines that induce sleepiness. So, the less light that you are exposed to at this point, the easier it will be to go to bed at an earlier hour.
It should be noted that it isn’t just sunlight that can have an impact on the SCN. It is also other forms of light, including those given off by digital devices such as smartphones, laptops, and more. Due to this, you will need to cut down on the usage of these devices as well to get the full positive effect of light therapy.
In conclusion, the time you go to bed does matter. Falling asleep before midnight can help you to maintain a healthy body and mind. Therefore, constructing a bedtime for yourself can have a significantly positive impact.
Written by Natalie Jones
Natalie Jones has been a mental health expert for over 15 years and has a Master’s degree in Psychology. One of her main focuses has been the biological mechanisms of sleep and the impact it can have on people’s mental and physical well-being. In particular, she has looked at the link between sleep and mental disorders. Through these studies, she has been able to formulate more tailored treatment plans for her clients.
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 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2019. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.
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 National Institute of General Medical Sciences. 2017. Circadian Rhythms.
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