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How to Sleep Early: 15 Steps to Shift to an Earlier Bedtime

Sleep early by changing your sleep-wake cycle. To do this, make gradual changes to your sleep schedule, get light first thing, and avoid it close to bedtime.
Published
2021-12-03
Updated
2023-05-26
16 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Woman sleeping soundly in bedroom prepared for sleeping early

How to sleep early?

  • To sleep early, get light first thing, exercise during the day, and then avoid light, intense exercise, large meals, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime.
  • Shifting your sleep schedule gradually, and then sticking to it, can also help you sleep early.
  • The RISE app can tell you when your body naturally wants to go to sleep and help you gradually shift your bedtime earlier. The app can also remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the most effective times for you, so you can become an early sleeper sooner than you think. 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days.

Sometimes, you need to go to sleep earlier than usual. Maybe you’ve got an early conference call, want to start adjusting to jet lag, or are dreaming of becoming a morning person. 

But, whatever the reason behind it, going to sleep early isn’t always straightforward. If you’re not prepared, you could find yourself lying awake in bed for hours. 

Luckily, there are steps you can follow to go to fall asleep earlier, whether that’s on a one-off occasion or when you want to shift your entire sleep cycle for good.

Below, we’ll dive into how to go to sleep early and you can use the RISE app to make it as effortless as possible. 

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“My biggest piece of advice is to focus on light, and not just before bed. Try to get out in sunlight in the morning and during the day, and then limit how much light you get in the evenings.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

How Can I Go to Sleep Early?

Here’s how you can train your body to sleep early, without turning to sleep aids. 

1. Set a Bedtime Goal 

The first step to going to sleep early is figuring out when exactly you want to go to sleep. 

If you want to go to sleep earlier because you’re getting up earlier, you need to make sure you’re still meeting your sleep need at night. This is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. 

What we know about sleep need: We looked at sleep need data from 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up. The median sleep need was eight hours, but 48% of users need eight hours or more sleep a night.

Don’t just aim for eight hours of sleep though and hope for the best! RISE can work out your individual sleep need.

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

2. Make Gradual Changes 

Once you’ve got a bedtime goal in mind, it’s time to slowly work towards it. 

You can’t expect to jump into bed three hours earlier than usual and fall asleep immediately. To make a long-lasting shift in your sleep schedule, make these changes gradually. 

Try going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier every few days. This will give your body time to get used to the shift. 

If you’re trying to make a big jump, it may take a while. But making gradual changes to your sleep cycle will give you the best chance of making the change for good, going to sleep early night after night.

When you reach your earlier bedtime goal, stick to it (more on why that’s so important soon). 

Expert tip: Try shifting your meal times by the same amount, too. 

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3. Get Bright Light First Thing

The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid light.

Light is a powerful tool when it comes to sleep and your circadian rhythm. This is your roughly 24-hour body clock, or internal clock, which dictates when you feel sleepy and when you feel alert. Permanent change to your sleep cycle or while in a new time zone, aim to get light at a gradually earlier time each morning to pull your circadian rhythm forward. 

And if you want to go to sleep earlier as a one off, try getting out in the light for longer than usual in the morning. 

Expert tip: The more light exposure you get during the day, the less sensitive you’ll be to it in the evenings. Try working by a window and getting out in the sun as much as you can. Aim for even more light exposure during the day when you’re trying to sleep early. This will help to desensitize you as much as possible to evening light. 

For science-backed timings, RISE can tell you when to get and when to avoid light each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get bright light reminder.

4. Avoid Light in the Evenings

Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and in the evening it pushes back your circadian rhythm. This has the opposite effect you’re looking for, making your body want to go to sleep later than usual. 

To combat this, limit your light exposure in the evenings. About 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses (we recommend these).

5. Use Screens Wisely 

Screens can keep you awake as they emit blue light, and it’s easy to get sucked into social media or a Netflix show and breeze past your earlier bedtime goal. 

Try switching off electronic devices an hour or so before bed, charging your cell phone outside of your bedroom, or setting a bedtime alarm, so you know when to power down to get to bed on time.

You don’t have to avoid late-night screens altogether for an early bedtime, though. You just need to use them wisely. 

Avoid stimulating or exciting activities like reading the news or checking work email. Instead, consume relaxing content. For example, RISE can guide you through relaxation techniques in the app to help you sleep (more on these soon). 

Expert tip: If you are using screens before bed, don’t multitask. Research from 2022 found media use in the hour before bed was linked to an earlier bedtime. And if this media use didn’t involve multitasking (i.e. no scrolling on your smartphone while watching TV) and it was done in bed, it was linked to a longer sleep time, too. 

6. Have a Bedtime Routine 

A relaxing bedtime routine is key for falling asleep. Do activities that help your mind and body slow down and switch off. 

Your routine could include: 

  • Taking a warm shower or bath: Warm water will, counterintuitively, help your core body temperature drop, which is a signal to your body to get ready for sleep. Research from 2019 says even just 10 minutes in a shower or bath one to two hours before bed can significantly shorten how long it takes to fall asleep. And a 2023 study found immersing just your feet in warm water can decrease your core body temperature.  
  • Journaling: Try writing your to-do list for tomorrow. A 2019 study found writing a to-do list can help you fall asleep faster than journaling about tasks you’ve already completed. Write it in RISE’s brain dump feature and you’ll get a reminder of everything you write down the next day.
  • Doing a breathing exercise: A 2021 study found diaphragmatic breathing helped nurses fall asleep faster. And research from 2023 (which was co-authored by one of our sleep advisors Jamie Zeitzer, Co-Director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Sciences at Stanford University) shows psychological sighing can lower stress levels and anxiety, and improve your mood. We’ve covered these techniques and other breathing exercises to do before bed here.

7. Check Your Sleep Environment 

Before you crawl into bed, make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. 

This is important on any given night, but especially when you’re trying to sleep early. You may already find it tricky to feel sleepy earlier than usual, so you want to make sure nothing in your sleep environment keeps you awake.

Invest in blackout curtains, wear an eye mask and wear earplugs, and consider a white noise machine.  

And when it comes to temperature, you need a natural drop in core body temperature to fall asleep. To help make this happen, set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, make sure your bedding isn’t too thick, and try sleeping with socks on (which warms your feet and cools your core).

Finally, make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. Experiment with sleeping positions and pillow positions, and consider a new mattress if needed. 

RISE can remind you to check your bedroom each night.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their check environment habit reminder.

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8. Get Exercise Early in the Day (and Avoid it Before Bed)

Exercise in general is great for your sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster, wake up less often throughout the night, and even improve insomnia. Research in rats suggests high-intensity exercise during the day leads to the accumulation of the sleep-promoting substance adenosine, which may help with sleep regulation at night.  

Getting the timing of your workouts right can help you go to bed early, too.

In a 2019 study, participants did one hour of moderate exercise on a treadmill at one of eight different times throughout the day and night. The results showed that working out at 7 a.m. and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. had the biggest effect on shifting participants' circadian rhythms earlier.  

Can’t get a workout in at these times? Just be sure to avoid intense exercise within an hour of bedtime as this can keep you awake. 

RISE can tell you when exactly to skip workouts to stop them from keeping you up. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

9. Cut Yourself Off from Caffeine About 12 Hours Before Bed

The RISE app can tell you when to have your final coffee of the day.

We all know a cup of coffee is a stimulant. So, if you’re trying to sleep early, you need to be extra careful about your caffeine consumption.

Try cutting yourself off from caffeine 12 hours before you go to bed. This is especially important if you’re sensitive to it, or if you’re really trying to nail an early bedtime. Try shifting your cutoff time progressively earlier as you try to sleep earlier.

We’ve covered more on when to stop drinking coffee here, including how to get energy without it.

RISE can tell you when exactly to have your last coffee each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

10. Avoid Large Meals Two to Three Hours Before Bed 

Eating can change the timing of your circadian rhythm. If you eat too late at night, you’ll be pushing back your biological bedtime. And if you lay down shortly after eating, you’ll be upping your odds of digestive issues like acid reflux keeping you awake. 

Aim to be done with dinner three to four before bed. If you’re trying to sleep earlier than usual, that may mean shifting all your meal times earlier, too. 

We’ve covered more on what time you should stop eating before bed here, including what to eat if you do need to have a snack before bed. You can learn more about foods that may help you sleep here. 

For exact timings, RISE can tell you when to avoid late meals. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder.

11. Avoid Napping During the Day 

Usually, we encourage an afternoon nap. It’s a great way to catch up on lost sleep and boost your energy levels, productivity, and mood. But if you’re trying to sleep early, you want to build up sleep pressure, the scientific term for the urge to sleep. 

When you nap, you reduce sleep pressure, which can make it harder to fall asleep at your early bedtime. 

If you do nap, keep it short (research shows 10-minute naps are enough to reduce sleepiness) and keep it early in the day. 

Check RISE for when your afternoon dip in energy will be, which can be the perfect time for some daytime shut-eye.

RISE predicts the timing of your afternoon dip in energy as part of your overall circadian rhythm each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

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12. Avoid Alcohol and Sleep Aids 

Trying to sleep early when not tired? Resist the urge to reach for a sleepiness-inducing nightcap or sleep aid

But both alcohol and sleep aids disrupt your sleep overall. This can lead to waking up during the night and more sleepiness the next day.

Stop drinking alcohol three to four hours before bed, and skip the sleeping pills altogether. 

13. Lower Anxiety Around Sleeping Early 

It’s easier said than done, but try not to worry about sleeping early. Worry, stress, and anxiety will only keep you up at night — not the outcome you’re looking for. 

It can be stressful trying to sleep early, especially when you crawl into bed and can’t fall asleep. But one night of bad sleep isn’t going to make or break your health. 

For a less anxiety-inducing way of looking at things, try tracking your sleep debt. This is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared to your sleep need.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you build up sleep debt. But here at RISE, we track sleep debt over the course of 14 nights. So, as long as you keep it low overall, you can enjoy energy, focus, and health — without putting pressure on one particular night of early sleep.

Expert tip: If you want to sleep early as a one-off (because you’ve got an early interview or presentation, for example), one of the best things you can do to prepare is lower your sleep debt.

This will ensure you’re feeling and performing your best on the day, even if you can’t go to sleep early to get enough sleep the night before. 

In the week or so before the event, take a few afternoon naps, head to bed a little earlier, or sleep in a little later to lower your sleep debt.

RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. 

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

14. Be Consistent With Your Earlier Sleep Schedule 

The RISE app can tell you your ideal bedtime each night.

Once you’ve gone to sleep early once or twice, keep the ball rolling. Get up and go to sleep at the same times each day, even on weekends, to make going to sleep early a habit. 

This will also stop an irregular schedule from disrupting your circadian rhythm and ruining your hard work shifting it earlier. 

One thing to be aware of? Your Melatonin Window. This is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. It’s essentially your ideal biological bedtime. 

RISE can give you a prediction of its timing each night. It may be later than you’d like now, but by following all the advice in this article, and keeping a consistent sleep routine, you can gradually shift it earlier, and keep it there. 

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

15. Take a Melatonin Supplement 

If you’re trying to sleep early as a one-off, melatonin can help. Melatonin primes your body and brain for sleep. 

When you take it in supplement form, it can change the timing of your circadian rhythm, making you feel drowsy at times you usually wouldn’t. 

This can be especially useful if you’re: 

  • Treating jet lag 
  • Adjusting to shift work 
  • Shifting your sleep schedule 

While we don’t encourage using melatonin to sleep early every night, it can be useful to get you into an earlier sleep schedule. 

Experts recommend taking a melatonin supplement four to five hours before your usual bedtime to feel tired earlier. One study found taking 5 milligrams of melatonin in the afternoon helped move natural production of melatonin 1.5 hours earlier. 

Want the exact prescription? We’ve covered how many mg of melatonin to take here and how long before bed you should take melatonin here.

Bonus Tip From a Sleep Doctor 

Finally, we asked our medical advisor, Dr. Chester Wu, for a sleep expert’s advice on sleeping early. 

“My biggest piece of advice is to focus on light, and not just before bed. Try to get out in sunlight in the morning and during the day, and then limit how much light you get in the evenings.” 

Why is It So Hard for Me to Sleep Early?

There are a few reasons you may struggle to sleep early. 

You’ve Got Poor Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the name for the sleep habits you can do to get healthy sleep. When you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you may struggle to fall asleep at your desired bedtime. 

Many of the tips we’ve gone through in this article come into good sleep hygiene, including avoiding late-in-the-day caffeine, naps, and bright light. 

To stay on top of everything, RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tell you when to do each one to help you get a good night’s sleep.

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

You’re a Night Owl 

It’s not always bad habits, some of us are natural night owls and are biologically wired to go to sleep later than early birds. This is called your chronotype

While your chronotype is determined in part by genetics, you can shift it earlier by paying extra attention to good sleep hygiene, especially light exposure. 

One study found when night owls were exposed to natural light only — no artificial evening light — their circadian rhythms shifted earlier to look more like those of early birds.

Expert tip: Try doing challenging tasks earlier in the day. This may not feel natural for night owls, but it can help to make the earlier days, and nights, stick. 

We’ve covered more on how to become a morning person here.

It’s Your Circadian Rhythm 

If you’re trying to go to sleep a few hours earlier than usual, you may find it hard, if not impossible, because your circadian rhythm isn’t telling your body to sleep. It’s actually doing the opposite. 

Research shows the likelihood of sleeping during the day is lowest two or three hours before bedtime. This is known as the “Forbidden Zone for Sleep.” 

Instead of feeling sleepy, you’ll probably find your energy levels are high at this time. 

RISE can predict when this evening peak in energy will happen each day. Check the app to see if you’re trying to sleep during this time. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.

You’re Engaging in Revenge Bedtime Procrastination 

Revenge bedtime procrastination is when you stay up late even though there’s no real reason to. You’re not rushing to hit a deadline or taking care of a teething toddler, you’re just watching Netflix and want more me-time after a long day.

This habit can be broken though. Try: 

  • Improving your sleep hygiene so you feel sleepy at bedtime 
  • Setting a bedtime alarm 
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine you look forward to 

You Have a Sleep Disorder or Medical Condition 

If you’ve improved your sleep hygiene and still can’t fall asleep, get medical advice or speak to a sleep specialist. 

A sleep problem, like insomnia, or a mental health issue, like anxiety, could be what’s stopping you from sleeping. 

Sleep Early, Night After Night 

Going to sleep early — whether that’s a one-off or a long-term change — is no easy feat. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

Make gradual changes to your sleep time, keep a consistent schedule, and maintain excellent sleep hygiene to give yourself the best chance of falling asleep earlier than usual. 

To help, the RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits at the most effective times for you. 

RISE can also predict your Melatonin Window each night. This way, you can see when your body naturally wants to go to sleep and work on gradually shifting it earlier. 

And you could become an early sleeper sooner than you think — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days. 

FAQs

How to sleep early?

To sleep early, get light first thing, exercise during the day, and then avoid light, intense exercise, large meals, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime. Shifting your sleep schedule gradually, and then sticking to it, can also help you sleep early.

How to sleep early when not tired?

To sleep early when not tired, get light first thing, exercise during the day, and then avoid light, intense exercise, large meals, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime. Shifting your sleep schedule gradually, and then sticking to it, and taking a melatonin supplement, can also help you sleep early when not tired.

How to sleep early and wake up early?

To sleep early and wake up early, get light first thing, exercise during the day, and then avoid light, intense exercise, large meals, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime. Shifting your sleep schedule gradually, and then sticking to it, can also help you sleep early and wake up early.

How to sleep early naturally?

To sleep early naturally, get light first thing, exercise during the day, and then avoid light, intense exercise, large meals, caffeine, and napping too close to bedtime. Shifting your sleep schedule gradually, and then sticking to it, can also help you sleep early naturally.

Why can’t I sleep early?

You may not be able to sleep early because you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you’re a natural night owl, or you’re engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination. Sleep disorders, like insomnia, or mental health issues, like anxiety, can also make it hard to fall asleep early.

Sleeping early benefits

Sleeping early benefits include a lower risk of depression, obesity, and health issues. You may also feel more productive, have less social jet lag, and get more sleep overall — which will improve your energy, mood, and mental and physical health.

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