Are you able to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up refreshed each morning? Yeah, me either. Even when I know that the alarm is going to sound at 6:00 am, chances are I’m still looking at silly stuff on the Internet well after midnight. Lots of people like me — i.e. grown adults who totally need a bedtime — would benefit from little more structure in this department. Thankfully, learning how to calculate your ideal bedtime is not all that difficult.
And what’s so bad about running on too little sleep? Well, just about everything. As noted by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, sleep deprivation can cause memory and cognitive impairment, stressed relationships, and even occupational injuries. And as anyone who has lurched through the day on too little shut-eye knows, just trying to perform everyday tasks can become a real struggle when you’re that sleepy.
To learn more, I spoke with Dr. Michael Breus, who is also known as “The Sleep Doctor.” His expertise has been shared in numerous blogs, books, and even programs such as The Dr. Oz Show. He also tweets helpful sleep tips @thesleepdoctor. His calculated advice for finding your ideal bedtime just might change your nightly routine for good.
How To Figure Out Your Ideal Bedtime
Because everyone's sleep needs vary (the traditional eight hours may not be just right for you), it's a good idea to start by determining how much sleep you need at night and working backward from there. Instead of thinking about your sleep as one long block of unconsciousness, think in terms of sleep cycles.
"The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and the average person gets five cycles," Breus says. First, figure out the time you need to get up in the morning — say 6:30 am. "Count back seven and a half hours, that’s 11:00 pm. Go to bed at 11:00 for seven days, and you should start to wake up before the alarm." He added that if you’re still needing the alarm, you may need to push back the bedtime a little (maybe back to 10:45 or 10:30) until you can reliably wake up without it.
How To Get The Recommended Amount Of Sleep
This method of bedtime calculation sounds great, but old sleep habits die hard. Fortunately, Breus also has advice on making a set bedtime part of your regular routine, and he stresses the importance of consistency.
"The easiest thing is to set the alarm clock for when you’re supposed to go to bed, not to wake up," Breus says, adding that you should put a reminder on your phone if necessary. This is great for people who get involved in doing work or browsing Facebook right before bed and totally lose track of time. The alarm can interrupt your thoughts and act as a reminder that 'Hey, I need to go to bed.'
What if you go to bed at the same time each night but have trouble sleeping because of a medical condition? Medical conditions that result in pain, such as fibromyalgia or even some forms of cancer, can make sleeping difficult. In these cases, Breus recommends PM analgesics (such as Advil PM) to promote a better night's sleep.
Overall, with a little math and self-discipline, most adults can calculate the bedtime that lets their body get the sleep it needs. Waking up on your own, feeling rested, is an attainable goal for most people. Even the most devoted of night owls might respond well to the bedtime alarm if it means feeling refreshed the next day.