Sometimes life has a habit of cutting into your sleep time. Maybe you’re working late, struggling to get your kids to bed, or maybe you’re just enjoying a quiet and relaxing night to yourself, and you lose track of time. Before you know it, you’ve stayed up later than you anticipated.
All this is normal, and as long as you don’t do it regularly, your sleep won’t suffer too much. So when is it too much? How late is too late?
If you consistently find yourself going to bed after midnight, you may unintentionally be setting yourself up for poor sleep and creating a growing sleep debt.
In fact, one of the easiest and best things you can do for your sleep is to go to bed before midnight.
If you’re a night owl this may not sound easy at all, but it’s important whether you’re a morning person or an evening person (night owl).
Although going to bed before midnight is important for your sleep you may also be wondering: “What time should I go to bed?” Although the answer differs for everyone, you should follow some basic guidelines.
How Does Your Body Know When to Sleep?
Your internal sleep schedule is regulated by two systems: your circadian rhythm, and sleep-wake homeostasis. These two systems work in tandem to help you fall asleep according to your body’s sleep needs.
Your circadian rhythm controls your sleep-wake cycle. When the sun rises, it signals your brain to wake you up and produce less melatonin. When the sun sets, it helps you prepare for sleep by producing more melatonin. Your circadian rhythm can be influenced both positively and negatively by light exposure.
It normally works according to the sun’s schedule, but artificial blue light, such as from electronic devices, can inhibit your body’s natural melatonin production, delay sleep onset, and prevent you from getting a full night’s sleep.
Sleep-wake homeostasis, also known as your sleep drive, works similarly to hunger in telling your body that it needs to sleep. Unlike your circadian rhythm, your sleep drive can’t really be influenced by external causes. Your sleep drive gets stronger the longer you’ve been awake, and after a certain period of time, it can actually make you fall asleep if you’ve gone too long without resting.
Related: Why We Sleep (And Why It’s So Important to Sleep Well)
Why You Should Go to Bed Before Midnight
It’s not always possible to go to bed early each night, but you don’t need to be in bed as soon as it gets dark to get your most restful sleep. What is important is to make sure you’re asleep before the clock strikes midnight.
The reason you should be asleep before midnight is because your sleep quality changes. As the night continues and the later you go to bed, the more it alters your sleep structure (aka sleep architecture).
Your sleep architecture is the structural organization of normal sleep. It’s your cyclical sleep pattern involving the various sleep stages.
Your sleep cycle is made up of multiple stages of NREM sleep- non-rapid eye movement sleep- and REM sleep- rapid eye movement sleep.
NREM sleep is when deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep occurs.
REM sleep is the light sleep that typically occurs closer to when you wake up in the morning.
When you go to bed after midnight, you receive less of the deep sleep you need to feel rested after you wake up, which can lead to daytime sleepiness and even sleep deprivation the next day.
If you’re one of the millions of people who have undiagnosed sleep apnea, it becomes more troubling.
According to The American Sleep Apnea Association, people with sleep apnea may experience less deep sleep during the night. The interruptions in breathing cause fragmented sleep, and may cause sleep apnea patients to experience more of the less restful early sleep stages than they should.
You can learn more about sleep apnea if you’re unsure what it is, or how to identify the signs of obstructive sleep apnea.
Related: Check out our article on how to use your sleep cycle for your best sleep to learn more about each stage of sleep and to discover how to wake up feeling more refreshed.
What Time Should I Go to Bed?
It can be tricky to figure out what time you should go to bed each night. Everyone is unique, but a good way to determine your ideal bedtime is to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Put simply: if you’re tired at the end of the day and there’s nothing preventing you from doing so, then you should go to sleep.
Otherwise, it’s important to consider your schedule when creating your ideal bedtime— specifically, what time do you need to wake up?
One way to figure out what time you should go to bed is to count 8 hours back from your planned wake-up time.
Most American adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, so this method should work well for most.
Alternatively, there are many free sleep calculators available online that can help you figure out your ideal bedtime according to more specific criteria, including your age and how many hours of sleep you need each night.
Just know, if you don’t get enough sleep (again, generally 7-9 hours of sleep per night) you’re creating sleep debt. Sleep debt can be difficult to recover from, so here are some tips to help you avoid sleep debt.
Our Tips for Better Sleep
Whether you are a morning lark or a night owl, getting healthy sleep shouldn’t have to be a chore. Along with going to bed before midnight, consider these healthy solutions to help prevent sleep deprivation and poor sleep.
1. Follow A Consistent Bedtime
Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is key to helping your body prepare for the next day. By following a consistent schedule, your body can prepare itself to be ready for sleep or ready to wake up at your set times.
2. Practice Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene, also known as your sleep routine, is another major factor that can determine whether you sleep well, or poorly. To ensure that your sleep hygiene will help you sleep well rather than hinder you, make sure you follow these steps:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals at least a few hours before bedtime.
- Stop using your electronic devices, including your phone, your computer, or your TV at least 60 minutes before bedtime. Alternatively, you can use blue light glasses, such as these from Swanwick Sleep, or screen protectors from Ocushield to protect your eyes from excessive blue light.
- Allow yourself enough time to finish any of your day’s tasks, as well as for personal hygiene.
- Stop exercising at least a few hours before bed.
3. Get Tested for Sleep Disorders
If you regularly sleep poorly, you may have an undiagnosed sleep disorder. People with undiagnosed sleep disorders may not even realize why they’re sleeping poorly.
Symptoms of an underlying sleep disorder can include:
- Loud snoring, gasping, snorting, or choking during sleep
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep each night
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Sleep interruptions during the night
Related: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make for Better Sleep
When you’re keeping up with all of life’s challenges, it’s not always possible to get to bed on time. But even if that’s the case, it’s important to make sure you get to bed before midnight.
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep even after making healthy lifestyle changes, get in touch with your doctor or schedule an evaluation with an accredited sleep facility near you.
Getting a good night’s sleep should not be a challenge. Contact us at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee today, and start returning to the deep, restful sleep you need to be at your best.
“Sleep/Wake Cycles.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/sleepwake-cycles.”The Importance of Sleep and Understanding Sleep Stages.” www.sleepapnea.org, 5 Oct. 2021, www.sleepapnea.org/sleep-health/importance-of-sleep-understanding-sleep-stages/.