Sleep is a basic health requirement, yet it’s one that we tend to overlook. However, if you are serious about getting healthy, sleep should be just as big a priority as eating healthy and getting regular exercise. At the same time, it helps to understand how sleep requirements can vary, depending on your age and lifestyle, so that you can find a sleep schedule that works best for you. The best time to sleep can therefore be subjective, but it’s important that you are consistent with your sleep and wake timings as this helps to strengthen the sleep cycle, improving your quality of sleep.
Best Sleeping Hours
The human sleep cycle is regulated by your internal biological clock or circadian rhythm, which is in turn influenced by light exposure (1). Strengthening the circadian rhythm will help you find the best time to sleep and wake up, but this requires us to be in sync with the rhythms of nature. To put it simply, our energy levels and alertness ebb and flow depending on daylight hours sunlight triggering wakefulness, while sunset increases sleepiness. This means that the ideal time to sleep would be early at night so that you can awake early as the sun rises. This strengthens our natural biological tendencies to sleep and wake at a particular time.
Under natural conditions, levels of the sleep hormone melatonin rise after sunset, making you sleepy. However, due to increased exposure to artificial lighting and blue light from digital screens, melatonin production can be suppressed, making it hard to sleep (2). In such situations, taking melatonin supplements before bedtime can help to cultivate a routine that matches the best time to sleep. Keep in mind that having an irregular schedule or changing shift timings can throw off your circadian rhythm, impairing sleep quality. So, it’s important that you decide on the best time to sleep and wake up for your needs, ensuring that you get adequate sleep and can sustain that schedule.
Sleep requirements also change with age, so the best time to sleep at night could be very different for a 4 year old as compared to a 60 year old. Here’s a table to help you find the best time to sleep and wake up based on your age.
|Age||Required Sleep Duration||Ideal Time To Sleep & Wake|
|0–3 months||14–17||Irregular hours|
|4 months to 2 years||11–16||8/9pm to 6/7am (with 3 daytime naps)|
|3–5 years||10–13||7/9pm to 6/8am|
|6–13 years||9–12||9/10pm to 7/8am|
|14–17 years||8–10||9/11pm to 6/8am|
|18–64 years||7–9||9/11pm to 5/7am|
|65 years and over||7–8||10/11pm to 5/6am|
There is evidence to show that sleep timings are just as important as sleep duration, as some studies have found that individuals who sleep later at night tend to have more negative thoughts and may even experience depressive symptoms, which can further impair sleep quality (3). This reinforces the idea of a ‘good sleep time’.
Additionally, not getting adequate sleep at the appropriate time can cause various side effects that are associated with both sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep. These include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Loss of focus
- Irritability and mood swings
- Forgetfulness and difficulty learning
- Weakened immunity
- Increased risk of depressive disorders
- Increased risk of lifestyle diseases like heart disease and diabetes
Similarly, sleeping for a longer duration than required is associated with similar health problems. However, in such scenarios the need to sleep for longer durations may be symptomatic of the underlying condition, rather than being a cause for those conditions.