Is Sleep Before Midnight Better? Sleep MD Busts the Myth

The hours of sleep before midnight aren’t inherently better than the hours after midnight, but they’re needed for many of us for maximum energy and health.
Published
2024-02-20
13 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Sleep Before Midnight: Is it Worth More? 

  • Sleep before midnight isn’t better, more restorative, or more valuable than sleep after midnight. 
  • But the sleep you get before midnight may be needed to get enough sleep and stay in sync with your body clock — two key factors affecting your energy levels, performance, and overall health and wellness. 
  • The RISE app can tell you when your body wants to sleep — whether that’s before midnight or not — and help you get enough sleep at the right times for you.

You may have heard the saying “one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.” But are you doomed to poor health and low energy if you can’t get to sleep before the clock strikes 12 p.m.?

Below, we’ll cover whether sleep before midnight is more valuable than sleep after. Plus, we’ll share how RISE works out the best bedtime for you and helps you fall asleep at this time night after night.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“Many of us should go to sleep before midnight, but there’s nothing magical about these pre-midnight hours specifically,” says Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, a double board certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“It’s just that many of us need to go to sleep before 12 a.m. to get enough sleep overall and to stay in sync with our body clocks. This improves our energy, focus, and physical and mental health.”

Is Sleep Before Midnight Better Than Sleep After Midnight? 

Sleep before midnight isn’t inherently better than sleep after midnight, but you may need the hours of sleep before midnight to get enough sleep for you at the right times for your body. 

Whether you need to go to sleep before midnight depends on your:

  • Sleep need
  • Optimal sleep schedule 

Sleep Need

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Your sleep need is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. Most of us need to be up at a certain time each morning and, therefore, need those pre-midnight hours to get enough sleep. 

For example, if you wake up at 6 a.m. and you need eight hours of sleep, going to bed after midnight will lead to sleep debt.

Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you’ll feel and the worse your productivity, mood, and mental and physical health may be. 

You can learn more about sleep debt here. 

RISE works out how much sleep you individually need and keeps track of your sleep debt.

Did you know? Sleep needs are highly individual. Among 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and over, sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. Almost half needed eight hours or more sleep — meaning they’d have to sleep in way past 8 a.m. to get enough sleep if they went to bed at midnight, let alone after. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
RISE users' sleep needs.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

Optimal Sleep Schedule 

Your optimal sleep schedule may include a bedtime that’s before midnight. 

Firstly, the most important aspect of a good sleep schedule is that it gives you enough time to meet your sleep need. 

Beyond this, timing is important. You want to keep a consistent sleep schedule that matches your circadian rhythm, or body clock. This can boost your energy, performance, and lower your odds of health conditions like obesity, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease. 

Learn why it matters what time you sleep, even if you get enough sleep, here.

Expert tip: Sleeping at consistent times can also help you get enough sleep. We found RISE users with consistent sleep-wake times have lower sleep debt than those with inconsistent sleep-wake times. 

To match your circadian rhythm, your sleep times will either match your chronotype (whether you’re an early bird or night owl) or, if this isn’t possible, you want to shift the timing of your circadian rhythm to match your lifestyle. This can be useful for night owls who need to be up early for work, for example.

So, for some of us, going to sleep before midnight is needed to stay in sync with our circadian rhythms. For others, going to sleep after midnight is OK, if it helps them stay in sync, as long as they can sleep in long enough to get enough sleep for them — this part is key! 

RISE predicts your circadian rhythm each day, so you can clearly see when your body naturally wants to go to sleep. 

To take the guesswork out of when to go to bed, check RISE for your Melatonin Window. This is the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production, the sleep hormone, is at its highest. 

Going to bed during this time will help you stay in sync with your circadian rhythm and fall and stay asleep more easily. It may be before midnight for those on the early bird side and after midnight for night owls. 

Check RISE to see when your Melatonin Window will be each night. 

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window
RISE tells you the ideal time to head to bed.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window here.

Where Did the Sleep Before Midnight Myth Come From? 

It’s not clear where the sleep before midnight myth came from. It may be that because we live in an early bird world, it’s hard to go to sleep after midnight and get enough sleep, making those pre-midnight hours of sleep vital for many. 

Or it may be that when you stay up past midnight, you’re more likely to do unhealthy behaviors that disrupt your sleep, circadian rhythm, and health, like eating unhealthy midnight snacks, getting blue light exposure, or drinking alcohol. These behaviors may be the reason you’re awake past midnight in the first place. 

There are also studies showing later bedtimes may be worse for your health, but they can be misleading and may confuse the impacts of sleep deprivation and unhealthy habits with going to bed past midnight. More on those soon. 

Midnight also has a nice ring to it, but there's nothing special about the time.

Here are three more bedtime myths. 

Myth: Sleep Before Midnight is Deeper Sleep

Sleep before midnight isn’t necessarily deeper. But if you go to sleep before midnight, that sleep has a chance of being deeper sleep because of how we cycle through sleep stages over the course of the night. 

You spend more time in deep sleep in the first half of the night and more time in rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM sleep), in the second half. But this pattern will happen if you go to sleep after midnight, too.

Myth: Sleep Before Midnight is More Valuable Because it’s Deeper

If you do get more deep sleep before midnight, that doesn’t mean this part of your night is more valuable — or that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.

All stages of sleep are important. For example, REM is needed for creativity, memory consolidation, and emotional processing. 

The best way to get enough deep sleep — and enough of every other stage — is to get enough sleep for you at consistent times. 

Myth: You Should Go to Bed Within Two to Three Hours of Sunset 

You don’t need to go to bed within two to three hours of sunset. While you want to wind down and go to bed when it’s dark and be awake when it’s light — and well-timed exposure to natural light can help regulate your sleep cycle — there’s no set time for when you should go to bed. 

The best sleep schedule looks different for everyone and it isn’t always before midnight. 

Sticking to this sunset rule would mean your bedtime changes throughout the year. It would be a very early 7 p.m. or so in the contiguous U.S. summer, and never (not to mention before midnight) in northern Alaska’s summer when the sun doesn’t set! It’s best to stick to the same bedtime all year. 

We’ve covered the healthiest time to sleep and wake up here.

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Is It Bad to Sleep After Midnight? 

It’s bad to sleep after midnight if sleeping at this time means you’re not getting enough sleep or you're disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm. 

There’s not a lot of research on the implications of sleep timing before vs after midnight specifically. 

There are some studies showing sleep before midnight is important for many of us, based on our sleep needs and sleep schedules. But these studies can often be misinterpreted to show sleep before midnight is better. 

Correlation can be confused for causation, and the impacts of sleep deprivation or circadian misalignment can be confused with the impacts of sleeping after midnight. 

Other studies used to argue for sleep before midnight may not really be supporting it at all. Some studies fail to take into account chronotype or sleep need, among other issues. 

Here’s what some of that research on midnight bedtimes actually says.

Worse Mental Function and Behavior  

The “mind after midnight” hypothesis suggests you think differently once the clock strikes 12 a.m. The thinking here goes, a cocktail of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment can cause brain changes that impair your mood and decision-making skills, and lead to engaging in more harmful behaviors.  

Supporting this hypothesis, research from 2022 found there’s an increase in impulsive and maladaptive behaviors at night, like eating unhealthily, crime, self-harm, and alcohol and substance abuse. 

But there’s nothing special about midnight exactly. The researchers themselves point out this time will be different for everyone, with night owls experiencing it much later than early birds. There’s also individual differences in how much being awake at night affects your mental functioning. 

Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease  

A 2021 study published in the European Heart Journal looked at a week of sleep times from more than 88,000 people and compared them against follow-up reports of cardiovascular disease over almost six years. 

The results showed going to sleep between 10 p.m. to 10:59 p.m. was linked to the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease — this time is sometimes called “the golden hour of sleep.” 

Those who fell asleep at or after midnight had a 25% greater risk of cardiovascular disease compared to this time. And the small group who fell asleep before 10 p.m. had a 24% increased risk.

“While we cannot conclude causation from our study, the results suggest that early or late bedtimes may be more likely to disrupt the body clock, with adverse consequences for cardiovascular health,” said study author Dr. David Plans of the University of Exeter in the U.K.

He added: “The riskiest time was after midnight, potentially because it may reduce the likelihood of seeing morning light, which resets the body clock.”

But this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to sleep before midnight for heart health. 

When adjusted for sex, the increased risk was stronger in women, and only pre-10 p.m. bedtimes remained risky for men. 

The study concluded there may be an increased risk of cardiovascular disease “for women in the presence of circadian disruption from sleep timing, independent of other factors.” 

That means, to protect your heart health, focus on keeping a regular sleep schedule that allows you to get enough sleep for you.

This study is often used to argue the value of sleep before midnight. But, because most participants had bedtimes between 10 p.m. and 10:59 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., the study more accurately shows the effects of sleep timing, mainly before midnight, and the value of a regular sleep schedule to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

Worse Mental and Physical Health  

A 2023 study — co-authored by Rise Science sleep advisor Jamie Zeitzer, Co-Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University — found that sleeping early is linked to a decreased risk of mental and physical health disorders — even for night owls. 

The conclusion was: “Going to sleep early, irrespective of natural proclivity and potential circadian misalignment, is associated with better mental and physical health.”

It’s not clear why going to sleep early has this effect, but it may be because earlier sleep times are usually linked to getting enough sleep, healthier lifestyle choices, and getting more natural light, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm. 

Midnight isn’t studied specifically, however. 

Increased Risk of Mortality 

A 2018 study found being a night owl was linked to an increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to being an early bird. But, again, this just shows correlation, not causation, and midnight isn’t highlighted specifically. 

Night owls may have poorer health due to chronic circadian misalignment and sleep debt.

Should I Go to Bed Before Midnight?

You should go to bed before midnight if: 

  • You need to wake up at a certain time and going to bed after midnight will mean you won’t get enough sleep.
  • Going to bed before midnight will help you stay in sync with your circadian rhythm and keep a consistent sleep schedule 

We’ve covered when you should go to sleep here.

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How to Sleep at the Right Time for Your Body?

To sleep at the right time for your body, maintain good sleep hygiene. These are the daily habits that can help you fall and stay asleep, get the best sleep possible, and get all the deep sleep (and other sleep stages) you need.

Good sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Getting light first thing
  • Avoiding light in the run-up to bedtime
  • Avoiding coffee, alcohol, vigorous exercise, and large meals too close to bedtime 
  • Do a relaxing bedtime routine like taking a warm bath or reading 

RISE can tell you the best time to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits based on your circadian rhythm. 

RISE app screenshot showing sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app sends you 20+ sleep hygiene habit reminders.

Night owl trying to sleep before midnight? Learn how to become a morning person here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Midnight is Too Late to Go to Sleep — For Some 

The hours of sleep before midnight aren’t any more restorative or valuable than the hours after, but they are vital for many of us. The most important thing is that you’re getting enough sleep for you at the right times for your circadian rhythm, and this may include an hour or two of sleep pre-midnight. 

To find out whether you need to be asleep before midnight, use RISE to see how much sleep you need and when your body wants to get this sleep. 

RISE can then guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get a good night’s sleep — whatever time that is.

All this can lead to better sleep patterns and more energy. 

As one user puts it, “This app completely fixed my sleep schedule!...I never realized how deprived of sleep and unregulated my sleeping pattern was and to my surprise, once it was fixed, I didn’t need coffee or a nap or anything else to have energy for the day.” Read the review.

It doesn’t take long to feel the difference — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days. 

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