What’s the best time to wake up? Society will say waking up early is the secret to success. But if you start asking that question in casual conversation, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of “when my alarm clock goes off,” or perhaps “as late as possible!”
An answer that could be interpreted as an indication of laziness is probably about something a little more nuanced. Maybe what people really mean to say is, “Whenever I feel like I got enough sleep.”
But how much is enough? No matter how tired you are, if you don’t know how much sleep your body actually needs, it can be hard to tell if you’re getting enough — and equally difficult to pinpoint the wake time that’s best for you.
Some of us may not have much flexibility with our wake up times, depending on our work schedules or personal lives, but we still need to know when exactly to wake up before doing these things.
In this article, we’ll explain how calculating the amount of sleep you need and working with your natural circadian rhythm are the best ways to find the bedtime and wake time that will yield your best possible daytime energy levels.
There are a few things to consider to find the ideal wake up time for you.
Before you start thinking about the best time to wake up, you need to know exactly how much sleep you need to feel your best each day.
Understanding sleep as it relates to next-day energy doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to get deep into the details of sleep cycles, sleep patterns, or stages of sleep — e.g., deep sleep, REM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. And it can be equally counterproductive to spend time trying to judge “sleep quality” (which doesn’t have an agreed upon definition).
The only thing you need to know is how many hours of sleep you need, which isn’t a number you need to work out on your own. Sleep need varies from person to person. Each individual requires a genetically determined amount of sleep that’s right for them. The average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so, but 13.5% of people may need 9 hours or more sleep a night. The RISE app uses data from your phone, along with proprietary, sleep-science-based models to learn your unique sleep biology and calculate your sleep need in hours and minutes.
Sleep scientists agree meeting your sleep need by getting naturalistic sleep is how you can get the benefits of sleep, which is why we at Rise put a lot of emphasis on knowing and meeting your sleep need and knowing your sleep debt. Sleep debt is the sleep you’ve owed your body, based on your personal sleep need, over the past two weeks. Sleep deprivation is not only bad for your health, it brings down your mood and energy levels, and your productivity takes a dive. This can happen as soon as you start staying up past your natural bedtime, and last for days if you don’t pay back your sleep debt or keep building up more. The lower your sleep debt (ideally below five hours), the better you’ll feel and function.
For many of us, the whole notion of “choosing” the best time to wake up might seem strange, even as a concept. Our wake times are pretty much decided for us. Whether it’s school or a job, a child, or a dog, external commitments usually dictate our mornings and our wake times.
Most of us do, however, have much more control over when we go to bed at night. So if you’re serious about having better days, then you need to find a bedtime that allows you to get all the sleep you need. If you use the RISE app, it will calculate your sleep need for you, so you can easily find the best time to go to sleep.
Beyond your sleep need, you should also think about your circadian rhythm when it comes to choosing your ideal wake up time. Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock that runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle. The timing of your circadian rhythm is unique to you, and it can even change each day depending on things like how long you slept for the night before, light exposure, and meal and exercise timing.
The timing of your circadian rhythm will also depend on your chronotype, or whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or something in between. So, when it comes to wake up times, early birds will naturally prefer earlier wake ups times, and night owls will prefer sleeping later into the day. We’ve covered much more about chronotypes here.
Again, you don’t need to figure this out yourself. The RISE app uses your phone use behavior, sleep times, and inferred light exposure to predict your circadian rhythm each day. You can then see exactly when you’re likely to have more and less energy, and when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep.
If you do have flexibility with your schedule, this is when you can lean into your chronotype and wake up at the time your body is wired to do so. For example, if you’re a night owl and your body naturally wants to go to sleep at midnight and wake up at 9 a.m. — and your job and lifestyle allow you to do that — following this timing will reduce social jetlag.
Social jetlag is when your social clock is at odds with your body clock. By working with your body, not against it, you’ll find you’ll have more energy each day.
Found the best time for you to wake up, but it’s an hour or two earlier than your usual wake up time? There is a way you can shift your sleep-wake schedule to a new time — you just need to be strategic with it.
Not an early bird but need to be? We’ve covered more tips on how to become a morning person here.
If you’re embarrassed about how many times you hit the snooze button on a typical morning, rest assured, you’re not alone. It’s normal — and part of human biology — to experience lingering sleepiness that doesn’t feel good when you first wake up. It’s called sleep inertia, and it usually lasts from 60-90 minutes as your brain transitions out of sleep. In the RISE app, we call it your “grogginess zone.”
It can be helpful to think of sleep inertia as less of a battle and more of a wave you can ride, with a little planning. As you schedule your days, keep your grogginess zone in mind and avoid planning important tasks that require a lot of focus or A-game level effort first thing in the morning.
This also can affect your ideal wake up time. If you have a big presentation at 9 a.m., aim to wake up at least 60-90 minutes prior to give yourself the time you need to perform at your best. If you know you need to be “on” at the same time each day for work, you can make your wake up time 60-90 minutes before this. That’s not to say your grogginess zone can’t be productive. It’s the perfect time to do less-demanding tasks, such as checking your email or writing a to-do list.
While sleep inertia is natural, here’s how you can reduce how long you feel it for:
We covered more ways to manage morning grogginess here.
Once you know your ideal wake up time, it’s time to think about your bedtime. This is the time most of us have the most flexibility with, but it’s also the time that can often go wrong. One more episode of something on Netflix or a little more scrolling on Instagram can lead to us staying up way too late, and therefore not getting the sleep we need or sleeping way past our ideal wake up time.
Here’s what to consider when planning your ideal bedtime:
When you know your sleep need and ideal wake up time, you can count back to find out the time you should be falling asleep. For example, if your ideal wake up time is 7 a.m., and your sleep need is 8 hours 15 minutes, you should be falling asleep at 10:45 p.m.
But you should also take into account your sleep efficiency. This is the measure of how long you actually spend sleeping while in bed. It takes into account sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and sleep fragmentation (how often you wake up in the night). For this reason, you should add an extra 30 minutes to an hour to your bedtime to make sure you get all the sleep you need.
After the sun sets, darkness is a signal to your body to ramp up its melatonin levels. The moment your body starts producing melatonin is referred to by the sleep science community as your dim light melatonin onset (DLMO). We use this in the RISE app to calculate your Melatonin Window, a roughly one-hour window of time when your brain will be making the most melatonin it will all night.
If you miss this window — by going to bed earlier or later — you’ll have more difficulty falling and staying asleep. Likewise, if you expose your eyes to light in the hours before bed, you’ll delay or miss this window altogether, again making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
You can check the timing of your Melatonin Window in the RISE app each day, and aim to go to sleep within this window.
We’ve covered more tips on finding the best time to go to sleep here.
Falling asleep at the right time for you will make it easier to wake up in the morning at the right time. Good sleep hygiene is the way to ensure that. Sleep hygiene is a set of sleep habits you can do to help you fall asleep easier and stay asleep all night. But these habits are more than just at bedtime, they start when you first wake up.
First, do your best to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time (once you’ve found what works for you to meet your sleep need). An erratic sleep schedule can throw off your circadian rhythm, which can drain you of energy and undermine the benefits of meeting your sleep need.
Next, look at your routines and environment to find opportunities to optimize your sleep hygiene.
The RISE app can tell you the exact time to do certain behaviors like get and avoid bright light, stop drinking coffee, and avoid large meals.
If you have flexibility with your wake up time, you can use your sleep need and circadian rhythm to find the best time for you to start your day. Even if work, family, or school commitments mean you can’t exactly choose your wake up time, you can still use the tips in this article to find your ideal bedtime, get better sleep, and improve your mornings.
The good news is, your body already knows the way. By aligning your sleep schedule with your circadian rhythm — and using a tool like the RISE app as a guide — you can work to meet your sleep need to feel and function better every day.
The ideal time to wake up will be one that allows you to get enough sleep, aligns with your circadian rhythm, and works for your lifestyle.
Waking up at 4 a.m. isn’t healthy if you’re sacrificing sleep at night. The healthiest wake up time is one that allows you to meet your sleep need and align with your circadian rhythm.
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