It sounds like an easy question, but figuring out what time you should go to sleep is trickier than it sounds. You want to make sure you get enough sleep to feel your best the next day, but you also don’t want to be tossing and turning for hours if you go to bed before feeling tired.
While many sleep-cycle calculators simply count back a set amount of time from when you need to wake up, there’s a little more science that goes into finding the perfect bedtime.
Below, we’ll cover how you can work out the best bedtime for you, how you can make sure you feel sleepy at this time, and what the best nap time is, too.
There’s no perfect bedtime for everyone, but here’s how to figure out yours.
The first step to figuring out the best time to go to sleep is to find out how much sleep you need each night. This is called your sleep need. It’s determined by genetics, just like height and eye color, and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t eight hours for everyone.
You can find out your exact sleep need by turning to the RISE app. RISE uses a year’s worth of your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your sleep need and give you a number down to the minute.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
Heads-up: The amount of sleep a person needs changes depending on age group. According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns need between 14 and 17 hours of sleep, school-aged children need between 9 and 11, teenagers need 9 to 10, and adults need 7 to 9. Older adults need the same as younger adults, but may find it harder to get this sleep. Guidelines are a starting point, however, use a tool like RISE to find out the exact right amount of sleep for you.
Once you know how much sleep you need a night, you can work out how long you need to spend in bed — these numbers aren’t the same.
You need to take into account sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency is the measure of how long you spend in bed actually sleeping. It combines sleep latency, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and sleep fragmentation, how often you wake up during the night.
When you take sleep efficiency into account, eight hours in bed doesn’t equal eight hours of sleep. You might take 30 minutes to drift off and be awake for another 30 or so minutes throughout the night, meaning you only get about seven hours of sleep.
To take sleep efficiency into account, think about your “sleepability” score, or how easily you switch off and fall asleep at night, and how often you usually wake up during the night. Then add 30 minutes to an hour onto your sleep need. This is how long you should spend in bed each night to give yourself the best chance of meeting your sleep need.
For example, if your sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, and you fall asleep quite quickly, you might add on 30 minutes, meaning you need to spend 8 hours 40 minutes in bed to have the best chance of meeting your sleep need each night.
Now you’ve got a number for how long you should spend in bed to meet your sleep need, it’s time to figure out when exactly you should go to sleep. But, for most of us, that all begins with your wake-up time.
Your social clock is the time you do things in your day-to-day life. This includes your work schedule or what time you need to wake the kids up for school.
Most of us have set commitments in the mornings and this can help us find our ideal bedtime.
First, look at your week and consider when you need to be up. Consistency is key with a sleep schedule, so if you need to be at work at 9 a.m. three times a week, you could take that as your time for the entire week.
Next, think about sleep inertia. This is that groggy feeling you get after waking up. It’s natural, and it’ll feel less intense if you meet your sleep need and more intense if you’re sleep deprived or if you’ve woken up during the deep sleep phase of a sleep cycle, although this relationship has not been consistently demonstrated.
You may feel sleepy, disorientated, and have impaired mental performance for a short time after waking up. You can check the RISE app for a prediction of how long this grogginess will last each morning.
Ideally, give yourself 60 to 90 minutes in the morning to shake off sleep inertia and start feeling your best again. So, if you need to be “on” at 9 a.m., you might set your wake-up time as 7:30 a.m.
You can learn more ways to get more energy in the morning here.
If you have more flexibility with your wake-up time, you can think about your chronotype. This is your natural tendency to wake up and go to sleep earlier or later, or whether you’re an early bird or night owl.
Your chronotype isn’t just a preference for being an early or late sleeper, though — it’s hardwired into your genetics.
It also impacts the timing of your circadian rhythm, the roughly 24-hour cycle of your internal body clock. This rhythm dictates when you feel awake and sleepy, amongst other things, and so it has a large impact on when exactly you should go to sleep each night.
If you can, work with your chronotype and go to sleep and wake up when your body naturally wants to. You’ll have a much easier time falling asleep, meeting your sleep need, and having more energy each day.
Ignore what social media and hustle culture say about morning people — you can live a healthy, happy, and productive life as a night owl, and you may have a much easier time if you work with, not against, your natural biology.
Plus, there are plenty of health benefits to lining up your sleep and wake-up times with your circadian rhythm. You’ll not only have more energy each day, you’ll keep your risk of health problems like weight gain, heart disease, and cancer lower.
However, there is some research to suggest that when night owls shift their sleep-wake cycles earlier, their mental health and mental and physical performance improves, as long as they don’t get less sleep overall.
If your chronotype doesn’t match your day-to-day life, you can reset your circadian rhythm to shift it earlier. This is ideal for night owls who need to be up early for work, for example, or those who want to try and improve their mental health or performance.
Another important thing to consider when figuring out the best time to wake up is consistency. A consistent sleep schedule has been shown to boost energy levels, even if you get enough sleep on an inconsistent sleep routine.
If you hit the snooze button a few times each weekend, only to force yourself back into an earlier wake-up time on Monday, you’ll have social jet lag. You’re not alone: 87% of us have it. But research shows social jet lag has been linked to impaired performance at school and work, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
Waking up at the same time every day keeps your circadian clock in check, meaning you’ll feel sleepy at similar times each night and you’ll therefore be more likely to fall asleep on time and meet your sleep need.
So, if you need to be awake at 7 a.m. three days a week to head into the office, consider making that your wake-up time for the entire week, even on weekends.
Once you’ve taken into account your social clock, sleep inertia, your chronotype, and consistency, you should have an idea of when you need to be awake each morning.
You can then count back from this wake-up time the number of hours you need to be in bed (remember to take into account your sleep need and sleep efficiency).
For example, if your sleep need is 8 hours 30 minutes, and you fall asleep quite quickly so you add on 30 minutes for sleep efficiency, you need to be in bed for 9 hours.
Then, say you want to be “on” for 9 a.m. each day, so you want to wake up at 7:30 a.m. Counting back, you need to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. to make that happen.
There’s one final piece of the puzzle to think about when it comes to finding the perfect bedtime: your Melatonin Window. In the RISE app, this is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your brain’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest.
Melatonin is the natural hormone that primes your body for sleep. If you go to bed in this one-hour window, you’ll likely have a much easier time falling and staying asleep.
The timing of your Melatonin Window can change each night depending on things like light exposure (light suppresses melatonin production) and when you woke up that morning (consistent sleep and wake times will help keep the timing of your Melatonin Window consistent).
The RISE app uses your sleep times and inferred light exposure to work out when your Melatonin Window will be each night. You can then check this and aim to go to sleep during this time.
Resetting your circadian rhythm will help to shift the timing of your Melatonin Window if it doesn’t fit with the time you’d like to wake up.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window.
Knowing what time you should go to sleep is one thing, but successfully falling asleep at this time is a whole new ballgame. This is where sleep hygiene can help.
Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of behaviors you can do to help you fall asleep at night. They’ll not only help you fall asleep at bedtime, they’ll help you get better sleep overall, maximizing your energy levels each day.
Here’s what to do for good sleep:
You can learn more about sleep hygiene here.
To help you get a good night’s sleep night after night, RISE can remind you when to do 20+ sleep health habits. But it’s more than just a simple reminder. The app tells you the best time to do each habit depending on your circadian rhythm. This makes them more effective, so you’re more likely to fall asleep at your desired bedtime and meet your sleep need each night.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
The best time to go to sleep obviously involves your bedtime, but you should also think about the best time to take a nap.
Naps are a great way of paying down sleep debt, or the amount of sleep you owe your body. In the RISE app, we measure this over the past 14 nights.
If you haven’t been meeting your sleep need recently, you’ll have a lot of sleep debt, and the lack of energy, irritability, and trouble concentrating (among many other things) that come with it. But the good news is research shows you can recover from sleep deprivation.
You can do this by:
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have each day. We recommend keeping this below five hours to feel your best.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
Naps are not only a great way to chip away at sleep debt, research shows they can decrease sleepiness, increase reaction time, and boost mental performance. And even in well-rested people, naps have been shown to increase alertness, performance, and productivity.
You need to get the timing of naps right, however. Napping too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep at night. That’s because when you sleep your body purges adenosine, a natural compound that builds up all the time you’re awake. But you need a certain level of adenosine in your system to feel the urge to sleep, also known as sleep pressure.
When you’ve napped too close to bedtime, your body won’t have enough time to build up adenosine again for you to feel sleepy when you go to bed. You’ll struggle to fall asleep and may find yourself tossing and turning late into the night.
To reduce the likelihood of this happening, nap during your natural afternoon dip in energy. This afternoon dip is a natural part of your circadian rhythm when your energy levels drop. You’re feeling sleepy and not being as productive as usual anyway, so you may as well use this time for a nap.
Napping in the afternoon, instead of later in the day, should also give your body enough time to build up sleep pressure, so you don’t have any problems drifting off when bedtime rolls around.
Check the RISE app for the timing of your afternoon dip in energy each day. This will change depending on your wake-up and sleep time.
Heads-up: The length of a nap is also important. Nap for too long and you may not only struggle to fall asleep later that night, but you may wake up with sleep inertia. One study found a 10-minute power nap is best. You can learn more about the best nap length and how to time a power nap here.
Reminder: If you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia, naps may make it much harder to sleep at night. Speak to a sleep expert or healthcare professional to find out the best treatment options.
Finding the best time to go to sleep involves more than just counting back eight hours from when your alarm clock will go off. You need to think about your unique sleep need, sleep efficiency, chronotype, and Melatonin Window.
All this may sound complicated, but the RISE app can do it all automatically. The app works out your sleep need, so you know how much sleep you need to be getting each night. It also predicts your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see the best time to go to sleep, wake up, and take a nap, all based on your own biology.
This way, you can get the sleep you need each night and enjoy more energy each day.
The best time to sleep according to science isn’t a set answer. It depends on your individual sleep need, your chronotype, and your morning commitments.
Use the RISE app to find the best times to sleep and wake up. The app works out how much sleep you need and predicts your circadian rhythm to show you the best times to go to sleep and wake up to get this amount of sleep each night.
If you wake up at 5 a.m., you should count back enough hours to give yourself time to meet your sleep need (how much sleep you need) and take sleep efficiency into account (the time you spend in bed actually sleeping, considering how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you’re awake for during the night).
If you wake up at 6 a.m., you should count back enough hours to give yourself time to meet your sleep need (how much sleep you need) and take sleep efficiency into account (the time you spend in bed actually sleeping, considering how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you’re awake for during the night).
If you wake up at 7 a.m., you should count back enough hours to give yourself time to meet your sleep need (how much sleep you need) and take sleep efficiency into account (the time you spend in bed actually sleeping, considering how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you’re awake for during the night).
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