It’s easy to judge the value of your sleep by how long you spend in bed. But is your sleep really any good? From struggling to fall asleep to popping in and out of REM during the night, disruptions to your sleep cycle can mean that eight hours in bed isn’t really eight hours worth of sleep.
One of the best ways to feel more alert and focused during the day is by improving the quality of your sleep. In this guide, we’ll be looking at the importance of going to sleep at the same time every night to establish your circadian rhythm and get more from the time you spend between your sheets.
Most sleep advice revolves around how many hours you should spend in bed. Far more important than the amount of time you spend between your sheets is your sleep schedule.
Just like sticking to the same work schedule is the key to productivity, and sticking to the same workout schedule is the key to physical health, maintaining a bedtime schedule is the key to getting more from your sleep.
If you get into bed at midnight and wake up at 8AM, you probably think you slept for eight hours. But if you’re getting into bed at a different time every night and waking up at a different time every morning, you’re probably spending far longer awake in bed each night than you need to.
When you have a consistent sleep schedule, your body naturally adjusts and begins to feel tired at just the right time each day. This cuts down the amount of time you’ll spend waiting to fall asleep and almost completely eliminates late-night insomnia.
It’s good to establish a bedtime, but sticking to it can be tough. During the weekend, your social life could interfere with your typical bedtime and cause you to fall asleep a few hours later than usual.
Relax, it’s not a big deal. You can still establish a steady sleep schedule by waking up at the same time every day, regardless of when you fall asleep. If you end up falling asleep an hour late, don’t add an extra hour onto your wake-up time.
Instead, regain that lost hour by taking a nap in the afternoon if you feel tired. When you force yourself to get out of bed at the exact same time every morning, your body naturally adjusts and you’ll begin to find yourself waking up moments before your alarm clock is scheduled to ring.
That’s the power of your body’s circadian rhythm at work.
Some people feel tired in the morning and energetic in the afternoon. Others are the opposite. Scientific studies actually back up the idea that some people are naturally inclined to sleep later than others, as well as feel energetic and motivated later in the day.
People that prefer to sleep late are said to have a “sleep phase delay”. There are also other reasons you might struggle to fall asleep at a normal time. Some people drink too much coffee during the daytime, while others don’t feel comfortable in bed and could benefit from a more comfortable mattress.
Being a night owl might be a combination of nature and nurture, but it doesn’t mean you can’t stick to a consistent sleep schedule. In his great blog post, How to Become an Early Riser, self-improvement guru Steve Pavlina explains how even the latest risers can train themselves to sleep using a ‘normal’ routine.
The answer is – you guessed it – set a consistent wake-up time and allow your body to naturally adjust to it. Pavlina believes that if you spend more than five minutes in bed awake before you fall asleep, you aren’t sleepy enough for your body to start adjusting. Most scientists agree, but recommend 15-20 minutes as a good guide of whether or not your body is ready to sleep.
If you’ve spent years sleeping and waking up at different times every day, adapting to a strict sleep schedule can be tough. During the first couple of days, you’ll likely feel a little tired and fatigued, especially if your wake-up time gives you only a few hours of sleep each night.
Be persistent and stick with it. After two days, your body should have adjusted to your new sleep schedule, and after a week you’ll find yourself feeling tired at the exact same moment each night. You might also begin to naturally wake up a few minutes before your alarm sounds – a sign that your routine is becoming natural.
Habits matter, and establishing sleep habits is a great way to make yourself feel more energetic, alert and productive. It might take a week or more for your mind and body to adapt to your new sleep cycle, but the results – from mental clarity to physical energy – are more than worth it.