Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. Although each one of us is unique and may need less or more sleep than others. Plus, each individual may sleep better at different times of the night. Which is why we hear phrases like “night owl” or “early bird”. However, regardless of how long and when your body prefers to sleep, it is always a good idea to keep the times consistent. Developing a set sleep schedule is just as important to maintaining optimal health as the duration and quality of sleep are.
Why We Need Regular Sleep
Your body operates according to a circadian rhythm or clock. This is an internal biological clock that regulates various processes within the body over a 24-hour period.
When we don’t stick to a regular sleeping schedule we throw our body clock out of wack. This results in it doing things like producing melatonin (the sleep hormone) at incorrect times. You may then struggle with falling asleep at night, wake up feeling unrested and drowsy, and have moments of fatigue throughout your day. This lack of quality sleep and wakefulness can lead to an assortment of problems.
The Dangers of an Irregular Bedtime
The very first thing I must point out is that this is a general rule. When I talk about irregular sleeping patterns and times I am referring to chronic exposures to sleep problems. Not one or two nights here and there staying up for a celebration or whatever reason.
With that said, long periods of minimal and or low-quality sleep means that the body and mind won’t be able to perform as well as it should. So although you will still be able to function on a certain level, your body and mind will not be running at optimal performance. And, like anything related to the body, it will have a snowball effect. The more it happens the worse it will become. Meaning that over longer periods of time, more and more bodily functions will operate less efficiently. Including organs, such as the heart, and many activities, such as the metabolic process.
“It might be akin to the timing of a gasoline engine. If the timing of the engine, the movement of the parts, is off a little bit, the engine can still run. It just won’t run efficiently”Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research.
There is even such a thing as sleep debt. So if you have a system that wants eight hours of sleep per night, and for five days you only sleep for six hours. Then you have ten hours of sleep debt. If it is not a regular occurrence you can make up for lost hours. However, if it becomes a habit, sleep debt can negatively affect your overall health.
And forcing the body to endure elongated periods in such a state will increase the risk of many health problems. Including:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Memory loss and other cognitive impairment.
- Metabolic problems, which could lead to weight gain and even obesity.
- Elevated blood sugar.
- Irregular body temperature.
- Hormone imbalances.
Ideal Sleeping Schedule for Adults
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), adults over the age of 18 should consider seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Although, again, I must point out that we are all different. So for example, if you feel at your best after only five hours of sleep every night, then that is what your body needs.
The Four Phases of a Sleep Cycle
There are four main phases within the sleep cycle of an adult. The first three are considered NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and the fourth is REM (rapid eye movement). Then we can break the first three phases into two stages. Where the first two are a lighter sleep and the third is a much deeper sleep and is known as slow-wave sleep.
The body goes through all four of these stages over a period of 90 minutes, repeating them throughout your sleep. Although the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep changes. The majority of sleepers experience more NREM sleep in the earlier parts of the night and more REM later on.
And currently, experts believe NREM sleep, particularly the slow-wave stage, is more restorative than REM. So falling asleep a little earlier in the evening may make you feel more rested than if you go to sleep later in the night. The theory is that our sleep is dominated by NREM phases from roughly 8 pm until midnight. So going to bed during these hours should provide the ideal balance of NREM and REM sleep needed to wake up feeling alert and refreshed.
Test it for Yourself
The greatest thing you can do for your body is to test what sleep schedule works best for you. Because honestly, we are all different and there is no one formula that fits all. It may require a little bit of effort to start, but it will pay off tenfold.
Assuming your body clock is not out of sync, the best bedtime is the hour of the evening when you feel most sleepy. So use your level of sleepiness to determine the most effective timetable. But try to bear in mind the 8 pm to 12 am guideline. If you are naturally a night owl, attempt going to bed by 11.30 pm. And if you are an early bird, think about going to be around 8.30 pm. From there you can adjust the times according to how you feel the next day.
For the best results, you will need to stick to this routine every day. Sleeping in for up to an hour on your off days is fine but if there is much more difference than that you may break your body’s rhythm.
Also, remember that our bodies change as we age. So your system’s preferred bedtime may vary with age.
Night Shift Workers
Unfortunately, these days life is such that many of us may not be able to sleep at the ideal hours. Nonetheless, whatever your routine, try to keep it regular. As well as this:
- Avoid caffeinated drinks and food within four hours of your scheduled bedtime.
- If possible, during break time take naps of no more than 20 minutes.
- When you do get to your bedtime, try to ensure that the space is as free of noise and light as possible.
And very importantly, consult with a health practitioner before taking melatonin supplements or any sleeping aids. Although this over-the-counter medication can be helpful for shift workers, it can exacerbate sleep problems if not taken correctly.
Setting yourself a sleep schedule is easy and will greatly benefit your quality of life. Because the correct amount of quality sleep, at the right times, is as important to overall health as getting enough air, water, proper nutrition, or regular exercise.