“When should I go to bed?” “What’s the best time to go to bed?”. If you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide to bedtime, we break down why the “perfect bedtime” isn’t the same for everyone and explain step by step how you can work out when you should go to bed.
Before we get started with the step by step, it’s important to understand some sleep basics:
When should I go to bed? Understanding sleep mechanisms
Tick-tock, the biological clock
In 2017, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three Americans for their understanding of the biological clock, or ”circadian clock”. This biological clock plays a major role in sleep. It regulates how naturally awake we are throughout the day. With sleep pressure, it is one of the two biological mechanisms responsible for the desire to go to sleep in the evening. Unfortunately, respect for these mechanisms is not always enough. For many people, additional factors (stress, overwork, depression, etc.) can delay or disturb sleep and cause insomnia.
Numerous biological settings, such as body temperature, heart rate or secretion of the main sleep hormones (cortisol and melatonin), follow natural 24-hour cycles.
This is no coincidence: our body is genetically programmed to follow a rhythm of approximately 24 hours. This is called the “circadian clock” or “biological clock”, determined by a set of genes called “period genes”. It also regulates sleep.
Sleep needs change from one person to the next. Some people wake up easily in the morning, others are more energetic at the end of the day. This is known as a chronotype, which is simply put, your body’s internal clock:
- Night owls or ‘evening’ people. For them, the start of the day can be pretty difficult and they feel more and more on form as the day continues. They are at the most active and productive around the end of the day.
- Early-birds. They have no trouble at all to get out of bed in the morning. Even if it’s very early, they’re up and ready to start the day. But as soon as evening rolls around they start to feel sleepy.
- Full of energy. Morning or evening, some people are productive and energetic.
- Lethargic. Some people are exhausted when they wake up and tired by the start of the evening.
If you want to read more about chronotypes, check out this study from 2015.
These chronotypes are largely influenced by genetic factors. A great example of this is the story of Michel Siffre, who as a 23-year old geologist in 1962, conducted the first long-term isolation experiment inside an underground glacier in the Alps. Plunged into darkness for 58 days, he was deprived of any spatiotemporal markers. However, he continued to sleep for eight hours every 24 hours or so, suggesting that sleep is a genetic cycle!
That being said, our circadian clock is more complex and flexible than that. External factors known as synchronizers or time-setters can influence chronotypes over time. For example, years and years of working an early morning job can transform habits and turn you into a morning person.
Mastering your synchronizers
As they influence our circadian clock, these synchronizers (regular meals, exposure to light, etc.) allow us to adjust to the social time (24 hours). And more importantly, they follow the coherent sleep/awake pattern of the environment and are thus conducive to sleep.
On the other hand, if these same synchronizers are used incorrectly, they can disrupt our circadian clock, and disturb our sleep. This is the case with light. Synonymous with “day” for the body, it inhibits the secretion of melatonin, one of the main sleep hormones. Exposing oneself to a screen before sleep can cause difficulties when falling asleep.
It is easy to go wrong when mastering synchronizers. Moreover, most people aren’t aware of them all or don’t know how to manage them. Dreem 2 gives you personalized advice that lets you control your synchronizers and change lifestyle habits to improve your sleep.
The importance of sleep cycles
Sleep is divided into several sleep cycles which last around 90 minutes each. Without even realising, you go through between 4 and 5 cycles a night. The end of a cycle is marked by a phase of light sleep and it is in these moments that it’s easier to wake up.
When should I go to bed? Determining your sleep needs
Before knowing the best time go to bed, you need to figure out the flip-side: how much sleep you need. Once you’ve determined your sleep needs, it’s much easier to calculate the time you need to go to bed.
The sleep need vacation method
Vacations are the best time to reimburse your sleep debt, recharge your batteries and calculate how much sleep you need. Here’s how to do it:
Week 1: Recuperation
Lie-ins, and naps: your first week is about recuperating as much as you can.
Week 2: Go with the flow
Now that you’ve reimbursed your sleep debt, forget your watch and time completely. Allow your body to self-regulate to know when to go to sleep and when to wake up. As the days go by, you’ll start to discover how many hours of sleep you need.
If you want to go further in analyzing your sleep, try MySleepProfile, which we made in partnership with the Sleep National Foundation. This questionnaire provides you with an overall assessment of your sleep as well as a few tips on how to improve it, and should help you know the best time to go to bed.
Keep a journal
A sleep journal is a great way to figure out your sleep needs Keep a note of your bedtimes, wake-up times and nap lengths etc. This information will help you figure out your sleep needs and evaluate your fitness level during the day.
Dreem helps you understand your sleep, including how much of it you need (and so answering know what is the best time to go to bed). You sleep is monitored with lab-level precision and then this data is used to help you better understand your sleep and how to improve it, with tailored coaching based on the best of behavioral science. There are also relaxation techniques and other audio features to help you fall asleep.
So… when should I go to bed?
In summary, if you’re wondering “when should I go to bed?”, you need to start by determining how much sleep you need. And remember this need changes from one person to the next. Then and only then, you can calculate the time you should go to bed, taking how long it takes you to fall asleep into account.
Bedtime = wake up time – (hours of sleep + falling asleep)
Let’s say that your alarm goes off at 7 am. You know that you need 7.5 hours of sleep (about 5 sleep cycles). It takes you around 19 minutes to fall asleep. So you need to go to bed around 11.15 pm.
Alternatively, you can go off to bed as soon as you start to feel the first signs of tiredness: yawning, a stiff neck, itchy eyes, etc.
It’s important to remember that the length of your sleep is different from sleep quality. A 10-hour long night in bad conditions (temperature, noise etc..) will be less restorative than a shorter night spent in better conditions.
The best thing you can do for restorative sleep is to take care of the quality of your sleep and get into the habit of a regular bedtime.