As the sun goes down each day and it gets dark outside, you should ideally wind down to sleep. But binging that TV show or scrolling through social media keeps you up past midnight instead of hitting the hay at a decent hour.
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A recent study suggests that going to bed at 10 p.m. is the optimal time. But is there any truth to this?
We Ask a Sleep Disorders Expert Colleen Lance, MDwhich explains whether timing is important and offers tips for better sleep.
Does timing matter?
The study, which was conducted in the UK, used data from 88,000 adults to determine that 10 p.m. is the ideal time to go to bed.
Not so fast, said Dr. Lance.
“There is no magic number that someone has to conform to,” she says. “It has to do with your personal needs and everyone has a different need.”
So while 10 p.m. may be ideal for some, it won’t work well for others. Instead of focusing on your alarm clock numbers, Dr. Lance says consistency should be your goal.
This means going to bed at the same time every night (even if it’s 10 p.m.) and waking up at the same time every morning. Even having dinner at the same time every day can help you fall asleep. All this consistency helps us function better.
Why? It has to do with our circadian rhythm, an internal clock inside your body that regulates sleep.
“When the sun goes down, your brain senses through the lack of light that it’s time to go to sleep,” says Dr. Lance. “And that triggers melatonin secretion. It’s that tiny puff of melatonin that triggers other neurochemicals to kick-start the process and get you ready to fall asleep within hours.
We also have these internal clocks for our hormones, our immune system, and our digestion.
“If another schedule isn’t on track, your body’s clocks are all misaligned,” says Dr. Lance. “For example, if you wait until 10 p.m. for dinner, then who knows when you’re going to bed because your circadian rhythm is off.”
And having an irregular sleep cycle can lead to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
How many hours of sleep should you get?
Adults are recommended to sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night. But Dr. Lance suggests finding the total amount of sleep that’s right for you. So 7 1/2 hours might work for you while your partner might need 9 hours.
“If you fall somewhere in that range and feel good during the day, that’s the most important factor,” she says.
In an ideal night, one would go through the different stages of sleep five to six times. Each cycle contains four individual stages: three that form non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
“REM sleep is when your brain catches up with its rest,” says Dr. Lance. “If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you can start having problems with memory, mood, and concentration.”
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at the same time every night, Dr. Lance offers the following tips.
- Try to eat dinner at the same time every night. Picking a time and trying to stick to it can help reset your sleep-wake cycle. And avoid eating snacks two hours before bed.
- Take a small dose of melatonin. Use instant-release supplements as opposed to time-released ones, which dissolve slowly. “It’s just a bit of pow — exactly what your brain is supposed to do when the sun goes down to help reset that clock,” she says.
- Use a sleep diary. Dr. Lance says tracking your sleep can help you and your doctor determine patterns and whether you’re getting enough sleep.
- Eliminate naps. That doesn’t mean naps are bad, but if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, that could be the culprit. “When you first wake up in the morning, your desire to fall asleep should be at an all-time low, and it slowly increases throughout the day,” says Dr. Lance. “It should be at its absolute peak in the evening. However, if you take a nap at some point, it completely erases your desire to go back to sleep and you start all over again.
- Minimize alcohol or caffeine in the evening. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not help you fall asleep. It may happen at first, but then it will disturb your sleep later in the night.
Ultimately, trying to have a little consistency in your bedtime routine can help you get quality sleep. So turn off your phone, stop the late-night snacks, and focus on a sleep schedule. It is essential to maintain your health.
Think of it this way, advises Dr. Lance, your kids have a set bedtime and routine. As adults, we tend to forget the benefits of a reliable diet, but we put these routines in place for a reason.
“We all know what happens when you let your kids run wild and stay up as late as they want,” says Dr. Lance. “It’s hell the next day.”