What’s the Best Bedtime for Adults?

We all want to sleep well and wake up energized, but when is the optimal adult bedtime?

adult in bed looking out a window at the snow at bedtime

Many adults don’t get enough sleep, which can be damaging for their health long term. For the highest quality sleep, consistency is key. That’s why sleep experts recommend sticking to a set bedtime that allows you to get a full night’s rest. So what’s the best time to go to sleep?

The Best Time to Sleep Is Between 8 p.m. and Midnight

It’s been proven that optimal restorative sleep is achieved when we go to bed in the evening but not too late — specifically between 8 p.m. and midnight.

To align our sleep schedules with our body’s natural cycles (our circadian rhythms), adults should go to bed when it’s dark out, after 8 p.m. We also get deeper, more restorative sleep when our sleep time begins before midnight.

Within that four-hour timeframe, you should go to bed when you’re tired enough to get to sleep easily, but early enough to be well-rested the next day.

Research on people who have unusual sleep schedules, like those working night shifts, has proven what many of us know instinctively: The best hours for sleep are when it’s dark out. Shift workers struggle at higher rates with their metabolism, mental health, and appetite and are more likely to get certain cancers.

If possible, arrange your schedule so you can get to sleep at night rather than during the day, preferably after 8 p.m. when it’s become dark.

It’s also important not to go to bed too late at night. The reason going to bed before midnight is better for deep sleep is because, throughout the night, our bodies cycle through different stages of sleep, including dream-filled sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM), sleep, and deeper, non-REM sleep.

Both types of sleep are important and beneficial, but the later we go to bed, the less non-REM sleep we get. The reason is that most people naturally fall into non-REM sleep earlier in the night and switch into REM sleep later at night. That happens no matter what time we go to sleep, so if we don’t go to bed until 2 a.m., our bodies have no chance to get non-REM sleep. That can leave people feeling groggy and tired the following day, even if they got the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep for adults.

“The 90-minute phase before midnight is one of the most powerful phases of sleep because it’s the period where the body is replenished,” says physiologist Nerina Ramlakhan, Ph.D.author of “Tired But Wired: The Essential Sleep Toolkit.” “It’s rejuvenated on every level – physically, mentally, emotionally and, I believe, spiritually as well. There’s a lot of healing that takes place in that first phase of sleep,”

Aim for a Consistent Bedtime Every Night

It’s tempting to stay up late on weekends and sleep in, but long-term, inconsistent sleep routines can lead to insomnia and other issues. If you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning, your body will become accustomed to that sleep schedule and you’ll fall asleep more easily and sleep better.

The period of time it takes a person to fall asleep is called “sleep latency,” and going to bed at the same time each night can dramatically reduce it. In fact, one study found that going to bed at the same time each night cut down sleep latency from 45 minutes to only nine.

Consistent bedtimes help us function better when we’re awake, too. Researchers found that Harvard undergrads who maintained the same bedtime each night had higher GPAs, scored better on exams, and were more alert during classes. People with consistent bedtimes also report higher overall happiness and lower rates of disease.

Choosing a bedtime that you can stick with consistently is key, even if it means missing out on some fun over the weekend.

How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?

When choosing a bedtime, it’s most important to make sure you’ll get enough sleep. The amount of sleep we need varies by age and individual need, but the CDC recommends that adults get at least seven hours per night. However, a third of adults didn’t get that in 2016, and it’s suspected that rates of sleep deprivation are even higher during the pandemic due to stress, lack of childcare, and more. If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, consider making your bedtime a bit earlier.

The less sleep we get, the higher our risk for various issues. Over time, adults who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety disorders, depression, asthma, and even obesity. Early research has indicated that sleep deprivation can even be a risk factor for COVID-19.

In order to ensure you get enough sleep, work backward from your wake-up time. For example, if you need to be up by 6 a.m. for work, you should aim to be asleep by 11 p.m., which means your bedtime may need to be a little bit earlier, depending on how long it takes you to fall asleep. Consider developing a bedtime routine; it can help you drift over to dreamland even faster.

Some adults need more sleep than others, so you may find that you function best with eight or nine hours of sleep rather than seven. Choose a bedtime that will allow you to get the amount of sleep you need every night.

A Final Word on the Best Time to Go to Bed

Getting enough sleep at night is an investment in our health and happiness. Choose a bedtime that you can stick with consistently and that allows you to get at least seven hours of sleep or up to nine hours of sleep if you find that seven doesn’t feel like enough for you. You will get deeper and more restorative sleep if you are able to go to bed between 8 p.m. and midnight, which aligns most naturally with our bodies’ circadian rhythms.

Everyone’s different, and it might take some experimentation to find your perfect bedtime, but the most important thing is to prioritize sleep and honor your needs.

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