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What Is a Good Sleep Schedule and How Do You Stick To One?

A good sleep schedule is one that fits your sleep need, chronotype, social clock, and helps you feel your best each day. Plus, you can stick to it consistently.
Published
2022-08-08
Updated
18 MINS
Man lying in bed reading to establish a good sleep schedule

Want to have more energy each day, feel more motivated, positive, and productive, and boost your health all at the same time? It all starts with getting enough sleep. And one key way to get enough sleep is to have a solid sleep schedule. But what exactly does that mean?  

Below, we’ll dive into the factors that make up a good sleep schedule and share the steps you can take to set up your sleep schedule and stick to it night after night, giving you more energy to enjoy day after day. 

What is a Good Sleep Schedule?

Firstly, there’s no such thing as a normal sleep schedule or one that’s good for everyone. And no sleep schedule is better than another (even if society tells us morning people are more successful). If your sleep schedule hits the points below, it’s a good one. 

Here’s what to think about: 

Your Sleep Need 

Your sleep need is the number of hours of sleep you need each night. It’s determined by genetics, just like height and eye color, and it’s not simply eight hours for everyone. In fact, 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.

So, one of the most important things to consider when looking at your sleep schedule is whether it gives you enough time to meet your sleep need. 

The RISE app takes the guesswork out of it. The app uses your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your sleep need and give you a number to aim for each night. 

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

Your Chronotype

Your chronotype is your natural tendency to sleep and wake up earlier or later. You may be an early bird, night owl, or something in between. 

This isn’t just a preference, though. It’s how we’re wired. Your circadian rhythm is your internal biological clock, or the roughly 24-hour cycle that dictates when you feel awake, sleepy, and hungry; when your body temperature fluctuates; and when your body produces certain hormones. 

If you’re an early bird, your circadian rhythm is slightly shorter, meaning you do things earlier. If you’re a night owl, on the other hand, your circadian rhythm is slightly longer, so you do things later. You can learn more about chronotypes here. 

The ideal sleep schedule is one that takes into account your chronotype and when your body naturally wants to be awake and asleep. 

As much as being a morning person is praised in society, night owls can often be just as productive, healthy, and happy on their later schedule, as long as they’re meeting their sleep need. If your work and personal commitments allow you to sleep and wake up at times that fit your chronotype, do it! 

Your Melatonin Window 

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window to tell you the best time to go to sleep
The RISE app can tell you the best time to go to sleep.

As long as it's dim enough, the pineal gland in your brain will start secreting melatonin about two hours before your biological bedtime. Experts call this moment the dim light melatonin onset

In the RISE app, we use this to calculate what we call your Melatonin Window, the roughly one-hour window of time when your rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. You’ll have a much easier time falling and staying asleep if you go to bed during this window. With a consistent sleep schedule, your Melatonin Window will stay at roughly the same time each night. But timings do change depending on how long you slept the night before. 

Check RISE to see the timing of your Melatonin Window each night, and aim to align your bedtime with it. 

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

Your Social Clock 

Your social clock, or the tasks you have to do at certain times like going to work or getting the kids ready for school, also impacts your sleep schedule. You may not have much choice about when you have to wake up. And this can easily be at odds with your chronotype. Night owls especially may find themselves having to wake up earlier than they’d like to start work or school. 

As much as your chronotype is down to genetics, you can work to shift your sleep schedule to an earlier one to fit better with your social clock (more on how to do this soon). 

Consistency

Consistency is key when thinking about a good sleep schedule. Your circadian rhythm thrives on it. By going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, you’ll regulate your circadian rhythm, meaning you feel sleepy at the right time each night and you’re therefore more likely to meet your sleep need. 

Too much change in your sleep schedule leads to social jet lag, which can cause more morning grogginess than usual, daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and more irritability and trouble falling asleep the next night. 

You’re not alone if you have social jet lag, though. About 87% of adults have it and go to bed at least two hours later than usual on weekends. 

But you need to think about more than just your sleep-wake cycle, which is governed by a master clock in your brain. Your body actually has more than one circadian rhythm. These internal clocks exist everywhere from your liver to your gut to your immune system, and these are called peripheral clocks. 

Certain behaviors like eating, working out, or getting light exposure can change the timing of all of these body clocks. When these clocks are out of sync with the outside world, the side effects go far beyond feeling groggy during the day. You’ll have a higher risk of things like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and cancer. 

So, look at your week as a whole when considering your perfect sleep schedule. If you know you have to wake up at 8 a.m. three days a week for a regular meeting at work, it’s better to wake up at this time every morning, rather than sleep in later and wake up earlier on those three days.  

Your Sleep Debt 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have.

If you haven’t been meeting your sleep need, you’ll have been building up sleep debt. This is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. With high sleep debt, you’ll feel those undesirable effects of low mood, lack of focus, and daytime sleepiness, amongst many others. 

RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. We recommend keeping this below five hours to keep your daytime energy levels as high as they can be. 

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

If you find you have high sleep debt you can pay it back by: 

  • Taking naps
  • Going to bed a little earlier
  • Sleeping in a little later 
  • Maintaining excellent sleep hygiene (more on this soon) 

So, if you’ve had a lot of sleep deprivation, and you can’t squeeze in naps during the day, your sleep schedule may look a little different while you catch up on sleep. Consider going to bed earlier or sleeping in to get an hour or so more sleep to get that sleep debt number down, and those energy levels back up. 

You can find out more about the best time to go to sleep and wake up here. 

How Do You Start a Good Sleep Schedule?

Now you know the elements that make up a good sleep schedule, it’s time to set one up. But first, how do you know if you need a better sleep schedule than your current one? 

You may need to change your sleep schedule if: 

  • You have high sleep debt and don’t meet your sleep need with your current sleep schedule. 
  • You feel tired during the day, despite meeting your sleep need — research shows a regular sleep schedule boosts daytime energy, compared to the same amount of sleep on an irregular schedule. 
  • You have trouble sleeping or struggle to fall asleep when you want to at night.
  • You’re usually a later sleeper but need to start waking up earlier — perhaps for a new job — and therefore need to go to bed earlier to meet your sleep need. 
  • You’ve got a lot of social jet lag, or a nonexistent sleep schedule at the moment .

Follows these steps to start a good sleep schedule: 

1. Find Out Your Sleep Need

Use RISE to find out how much sleep you need each night in hours and minutes. This is the most important step. Your sleep schedule could be perfect in all other ways, but if you don’t meet your sleep need, you won’t get the energy you’re looking for each day. 

2. Think About Sleep Efficiency

Sleep efficiency is how long you spend in bed actually sleeping. This combines sleep latency, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and sleep fragmentation, how often you wake up during the night. 

If you need 8 hours 30 minutes of sleep and only spend 8 hours 30 minutes in bed, you won’t actually meet your sleep need. Even if your sleep efficiency is near perfect, you’ll still spend some time falling asleep. 

Add 30 minutes to an hour onto your sleep need to take into account the time you spend awake in bed. How long you add depends on your “sleepablity” level, or how quickly you’re able to switch off and fall asleep, and how regularly you wake up in the night.

Bonus tip: Factor in time for a bedtime routine to allow your brain and body time to wind down for bed. This should improve your sleep efficiency, too. 

3. Think About Your Morning Commitments 

Most of us have set commitments in the morning and have more flexibility with our bedtimes. So, look at your earliest commitment in the day and count back from there, giving yourself enough time to meet your sleep need and take sleep efficiency into account. 

Plus, think about sleep inertia, or that groggy feeling you get when you first wake up. Give yourself an hour or even 90 minutes to fully wake up and feel your best before you need to be “on” for the day. The RISE app can give you a prediction for how long this grogginess will last each morning, so you can schedule your day to match. 

For example, if your first meeting is at 9 a.m., here’s how you’d work out your perfect sleep schedule: 

  • Give yourself 90 minutes to shake off grogginess before the meeting, so you may want to wake up at 7:30 a.m. 
  • Your sleep need might be 8 hours 30 minutes and you fall asleep fairly quickly, so you add on 30 minutes for sleep efficiency. 
  • This means you count back 9 hours from 7:30 a.m., giving you a bedtime of 10:30 p.m. 

4. Think About Your Chronotype 

If you’re lucky enough to have flexibility with work and no other morning commitments, you can simply focus on your chronotype. Check RISE to see your “Wake Zone” and Melatonin Window, the ideal times to wake up and go to sleep, and align your sleep time with these.

Just make sure you’re not getting less sleep by staying up late. There’s nothing wrong with not being a morning person, as long as you’re still meeting your sleep need. 

How Do You Move Your Sleep Schedule?

You may find that after looking at your sleep need and chronotype, your current sleep schedule doesn’t work for you. Or the ideal sleep schedule doesn’t match your morning commitments. This is when you can focus on shifting your sleep patterns and resetting your circadian rhythm to an earlier or later time to better suit your life. 

We cover in more detail how to reset your circadian rhythm here. But the main things to focus on are: 

  • Shift your sleep and wake times gradually: Try moving them 15 to 30 minutes each day to give your circadian rhythm a chance to adjust. 
  • Shift your meal and exercise times: Food and exercise are zeitgebers, or external cues that can change the timing of your circadian rhythm. Shift meal and exercise times in the direction you’re moving your sleep schedule. 
  • Maintain excellent sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is the set of behaviors you can do throughout the day to help you get the sleep you need each night (more on what to do soon). By focusing on sleep hygiene, you’ll ensure things like bright light exposure and caffeine don’t get in the way of you feeling sleepy at your new bedtime. 
  • Turn to melatonin as a last resort: If you’re making a big change in your sleep schedule, taking a melatonin supplement can help as it acts as a chronobiotic, or something that can shift the timing of your circadian rhythm. You can learn more about what melatonin does here. Take it short term until you’re adjusted, then rely on sleep hygiene to keep you on the new schedule. 

You might need to do this if you’re a night owl with early morning commitments. In that case, check out our guide on how to become a morning person here. 

Bonus tip: While moving your sleep schedule, use RISE to keep an eye on your sleep debt. Keep it low to ensure your energy levels don’t take a dive during the day.  

How Do You Stick to a Good Sleep Schedule?

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Once you’ve found out the best sleep routine for you and moved your current sleep schedule to match it, it’s time to stick to your new sleep-wake times. 

You can stick to your sleep schedule with sleep hygiene, or the good sleep habits you can do throughout the day to help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. 

Here are our most important sleep tips to help: 

  • Get natural light first thing: Light is the most powerful zeitgeber, so it has the strongest effect on your circadian rhythm. Get at least 10 minutes of natural light first thing, or 30 minutes if it’s cloudy. This resets your circadian rhythm for the day, setting you up to feel sleepy at the right time that evening. 
  • Get light throughout the day: Go for walks, workout outside, and work by a window if possible. Light exposure throughout the day can make you less sensitive to it come evening. 
  • Avoid artificial light before bed: Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and we can easily get too much light in the evenings from artificial lights in our home and our electronic devices. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. Use blackout curtains and an eye mask to keep your sleep environment dark and keep the lights off or low if you wake up during the night to use the bathroom. 
  • Avoid sleep disruptors close to bedtime: Caffeine, alcohol, exercise, and large meals can all disrupt your sleep, keeping you up past your new bedtime or waking you up during the night. 

Use RISE to stay on top of these healthy sleep habits. The app can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tell you when to do them based on your circadian rhythm each day. Getting the timing of your sleep hygiene habits right not only makes them more effective, it keeps your circadian rhythm running smoothly, making it easier to stick to your new sleep schedule. 

Be Consistent

As we said, consistency is key. This is especially important if you’re a night owl on an earlier schedule as it’s easy to slip back into your old habits of staying up later, which can throw off your sleep schedule and undo all your hard work. 

Sleep hygiene will help you feel sleepy at similar times each night, but you also need to keep an eye on sleep procrastination — a late-night Netflix binge can happen to the best of us. 

When you’re tempted to stay up late, sleep in all morning, or otherwise mess up your routine, remind yourself why you wanted to fix your sleep schedule in the first place. That could be to make getting a good night’s sleep easier each night, so you have more energy to play with your kids, more focus to excel at work, or more spark to enjoy each day to its fullest.  

Bonus tip: Schedule challenging tasks in the morning. Got a report to write, a sales call to make, or a presentation to deliver? If you can, schedule it for your morning energy peak — you can check the timing of this in the RISE app. Scheduling challenging tasks for your morning energy peak will make it easier to stick to the earlier sleep schedule, even, and especially, if you’re a night owl. 

What to Do When a Good Sleep Schedule is Impossible?

There are times in life when sticking to a good sleep schedule is almost impossible. Pregnant people, new parents, night shift workers, and those battling jet lag will all know the struggle of trying to get enough sleep at the right times. 

We’ve covered how to sleep when pregnant, how to get over jet lag, and some tips for shift workers trying to reset their sleep schedules here. But our main advice for these situations is to keep sleep debt as low as you can (research shows naps can help those with irregular sleep schedules) and focus on sleep hygiene, even if your schedule is messed up. This will make the sleep you do get the best it can be, keeping your energy levels as high as possible. 

Those suffering with insomnia, sleep apnea, or any other sleep disorder should speak to a health care professional to discuss treatment options. If a sleep problem is stopping you from getting enough sleep, it’ll be impacting everything else important in life — think energy, mood, and health just for starters.

Find Your Ideal Sleep Schedule (and Stick to it) With RISE 

The first thing to remember is there is no one perfect sleep schedule for everyone. A good sleep schedule is one that allows you to meet your sleep need and stay consistent, while considering your chronotype and social clock. 

Once you’ve found the ideal sleep schedule for you, slowly shift your current schedule towards it then use sleep hygiene to stick to it. We've covered how long it takes to adjust to a new sleep schedule here.

With a good sleep schedule, you’ll be getting the sleep you need, at the right times for you, meaning everything from your focus to your overall wellness and mood to your energy levels will be boosted.

Summary FAQs

What is the best time to sleep, according to science?

There is no best time to sleep for everyone. According to science, the best time to sleep takes into account your sleep need, chronotype, and morning commitments.

What is a healthy sleep schedule for adults?

A healthy sleep schedule for adults is one that gives them enough time to meet their sleep need, is consistent, matches their chronotype or, if that’s not possible, matches their social clock.

Sleep schedule calculator?

You can calculate your perfect sleep schedule by looking at the time you need to wake up in the mornings and giving yourself some time to shake off morning grogginess before you have to be “on.” Then count back from there with your sleep need and add on 30 minutes to an hour for sleep efficiency. If your wake up is flexible, consider your chronotype.

What is healthy sleep?

Healthy sleep is sleep that lasts long enough to meet your sleep need, isn’t too fragmented, happens at the right time for your body, gives you enough energy each day, and happens without using sleep aids.

How to sleep better at night naturally?

To sleep better at night naturally, maintain excellent sleep hygiene. This includes getting natural light exposure first thing, avoiding artificial light before bed, cutting off caffeine at the right time, and keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

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Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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