Experts agree that most adults need to get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is essential for your mental and physical health and performance, not to mention your energy levels and your mood.
However, despite the apparent importance of sleep, a lot of people don’t get enough. This can be because they stay up too late or get up very early, or that they suffer from interrupted or poor-quality sleep. Either way, lack of sleep is a problem.
A large percentage of severe and fatal accidents are caused by a lack of sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to make mistakes or poor decisions. You may even experience “microsleep” where your body drops off to sleep for just a few seconds, often without realizing it.
Microsleeps can happen anytime. They aren’t much of an issue when you are sat at your computer or are watching TV but could prove disastrous if you are driving or operating machinery.
Not getting enough sleep is also linked to a host of serious diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. Not getting enough sleep can take years off your life.
There are lots of ways to make getting enough sleep more manageable and ensure you stay asleep longer. Useful strategies include cutting down on caffeine and nicotine, drinking natural relaxants such as chamomile and passionfruit tea or warm milk, using sleep-enhancing supplements such as melatonin or CBD, and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
However, one of the most effective ways to make sure you get enough sleep each night is to set a bedtime. Most adults think that bedtimes are only for kids, but if you are struggling to get enough sleep, bringing back bedtime can really help.
The ways in which having a bedtime can help you sleep better include:
1. It makes getting enough sleep easier
If you need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, staying up late when you have to get up early makes doing so impossible. It’s simple math; if you have to get up at 6 A.M., and go to bed at midnight, you’ll never get more than six hours of sleep per night. Going to bed earlier, even if you have to get up at the crack of dawn, means you are much more likely to clock up all the hours of sleep you need.
To establish your ideal bedtime, work back from the time you have to get up by eight hours, and then add an extra 30 minutes to give you time to get ready for bed. For example, if you get up at 6.30 A.M. you should start getting ready for bed no later than 10 P.M.
If you usually stay up late, don’t suddenly go to bed at 8 P.M. – it’ll be too big a shock to your system. Invariably, you’ll just feel restless and lie awake. Instead, go to bed just 15-30 minutes earlier than usual for a few nights, and then adjust again 2-3 nights later. Take several weeks to establish your new bedtime.
2. It helps you develop the sleep habit
Practice makes perfect, or so they say, and getting enough sleep is a skill that many people have lost. If you keep going to bed at different times, your body doesn’t know when you want to sleep. Because of this, even if you go to bed at a reasonable time, sleep can be hard to come by. Your body hasn’t got the sleep habit.
If you go to bed at the same time every night, your body will gradually learn that bedtime is sleep time. It will even start to anticipate your bedtime so that you fall asleep more easily.
Maximize this strategy by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day – even at weekends. Late nights and lie-ins at weekends confuse your body and break your good weekday sleep habits. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, seven days a week. If you do veer from your sleep schedule, limit your variations to about an hour. You can’t lie in until 11 A.M. and expect to preserve your weekday sleep habits.
3. It helps reset your circadian rhythm
Before the invention of the electric light, humans woke up when the sun rose and went to sleep not long after the sun set. Exposure to light affects the release hormones that regulate your sleep and waking cycles, called your circadian rhythm. Those hormones are serotonin and melatonin.
Artificial light and light from things like computers, TVs, smartphones, and electric lights can confuse your circadian rhythm, making sleep harder to come by. For a lot of us, this means feeling tired all day and wide awake at night.
Going to bed earlier and getting up early will help get your circadian rhythm back on track. You don’t need to go to bed as the sun sets and get up as it rises, but you should try and replicate these events as closely as is practical.
Resetting your circadian rhythm will help teach your body to go to sleep more readily and sleep more soundly. Try to wake up to bright light, preferably sunlight, to make sure your circadian rhythm starts off on the right foot. Then, as it begins to get dark, avoid exposure to bright lights, and go to bed early enough so that you can still clock up 7-9 hours sleep before facing the morning sunshine again.
Bedtimes are not just for kids; most adults need them too. Establishing a bedtime is not always easy, and you’ll need to be disciplined enough to turn off the TV earlier than usual, but it’s a crucial and effective step for getting enough sleep.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day trains your body to expect sleep and helps develop a better sleeping habit. It’s also a good way to reset your sleep regulation mechanism – the circadian rhythm. If nothing else, going to bed earlier means that you have a higher chance of clocking up the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep before you need to get up again.