What Time Should I Go to Bed? (And Why it Should be Before Midnight)

Woman peacefully sleeping in bed at night.

How often do you go to sleep after midnight? 

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially if you work late, have really young kids, or have a new baby. While it’s normal for it to happen every so often, it’s not something you want to do frequently. In fact, it’s bad for you if you do it too often.

In today’s world, many of us are always expected to be available at any time. Whether it’s for work, school, or family, that can be rough on your rest. One simple thing you can do to instantly help your sleep though is to go to bed before midnight.

A lot of the night owls out there may be feeling worried right now— don’t be! Going to bed before midnight can even benefit you if you’re more productive at night. But before we dive into why this is the case, let’s take a look at how your body gets you ready to sleep.

How Your Body Knows When to Sleep

Your body knows when to sleep thanks to two systems in your body: your circadian rhythm, and your sleep drive.

Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that controls your sleep-wake cycle and gets you ready to sleep each night and wake up each morning. It’s not the same thing as your biological clock though— rather, your biological clock helps regulate your circadian rhythm and can change as you age, or according to the seasons.

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by light exposure, mainly by the sun. Humans are naturally inclined to rise and set with the sun— so your circadian rhythm will typically wake you as the sun rises, and get you ready for sleep when it sets. It does this by producing melatonin, your “sleep” hormone.

Your sleep drive, or sleep-wake homeostasis, is a biological urge similar to the ones telling you to eat or drink that tells you when you need to rest. This sleep drive gets stronger the longer you’ve been awake, and can actually make you sleep if you stay up for too long. So if you’re feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived, make sure you’re somewhere you can easily and safely rest!

But what does this have to do with going to sleep before midnight?

Why Sleeping Before Midnight is So Important

There are a few adages out there about the benefits of going to bed and waking up early. You may be most familiar with two of them: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and “an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after,” but is there any truth to either of them?

Yes and no.

Your sleep quality changes as the night goes on, and going to bed later alters the structure of your sleep. Your sleep is made up of multiple cycles of non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM sleep, and rapid eye movement, or REM sleep.

NREM sleep, or your restorative deep sleep usually happens earlier in the night. REM sleep, or light sleep, normally happens closer to when you wake up. This means that if you go to sleep later, you get less of the deep sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning. And getting less of this deep sleep can leave you feeling groggy and exhausted the next morning.

This can be especially difficult for people who work nights, early mornings, or irregular schedules. Working against your body’s circadian rhythm can make you vulnerable to sleep disorders like shift work sleep disorder, which can cause sleepiness when you need to be awake and insomnia when you should be asleep.

Any degree of sleep deprivation is serious— not only does it impact how you feel and think each day, but it can actually be dangerous. Sleep deprivation can put your brain in a fog, dull your cognitive function, and put you at a higher risk of injuring yourself or others. The best way to prevent this, of course, is with a good night’s sleep. And one of the best ways to achieve this is with a consistent bedtime before midnight.

An early bedtime may not sound fun— or even for some, practical. Thankfully though, you don’t need to be in bed by 8 PM each night to get a full and restful night’s sleep.

What Time Should You Go to Bed?

As far as the ideal bedtime goes, one size does not fit all. The bedtime that works best for you may not work at all for your friends or family. This is why it’s so important to find out what’s best for your individual needs.

Paying attention to your sleep needs is one of the easiest ways to determine your bedtime— if you’re tired at the end of the day, go to sleep. It can be that simple sometimes.

But if you’re looking for the right time to go to sleep each night according to your schedule, I recommend checking out my sleep calculator. All you need to find your ideal bedtime is your wake-up time in the morning. With this tool you can not only start getting a full night’s sleep, but also the good sleep quality you need to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next day.

Your Ideal Bedtime by Chronotype

Your chronotype can be a major factor in determining your sleep schedule, and you may not even realize it. The ideal bedtime for a night owl is significantly different than the morning lark’s bedtime, so it’s important to keep in mind whether or not you’re a morning lark or a night owl. Or more specifically, whether or not you’re a lion, a bear, a wolf, or a dolphin.

If you have the lion or bear chronotypes, you’re more naturally inclined to wake up and get to sleep earlier. Your productivity windows are also earlier in the day, which suits your schedule well since you’ll start winding down earlier.

If you have the wolf chronotype, then you tend to be most productive during the evening hours and do better waking up later in the day.

Lastly, if you have the dolphin chronotype, it may be tricky to find your ideal schedule because you are likely more prone to interrupted sleep or sleep disorders like insomnia. But Dolphins have an excellent window of when they’re most productive, ranging from 10 AM to 2 PM.

Knowing your chronotype can help you get the best sleep possible and be more productive as a whole. To find your chronotype and learn more about your ideal schedule, check out my chronoquiz.

What You Can Do For Better Sleep

There’s a lot you can do for better sleep— I write about this regularly! I recommend reading some of those articles after you finish this one. I’ll give you a quick rundown so you know where to start though— try some of these today and see how you feel.

  • Create a consistent sleep routine: This is one of the best things you can do. A consistent bedtime and wake-up time will not only help your body prepare itself for sleep, but it’ll help it prepare for being awake also. Once you get yourself into the routine, great sleep may become second nature.
  • Good sleep hygiene: This means taking time before bed each night to finish any unfinished business or chores, putting away your electronic devices, practicing relaxation techniques, and taking care of your personal hygiene. Your sleep hygiene can have a huge impact on your sleep quality, so if you’re having any sleep problems, consider how your pre-bedtime routine may be affecting things.
  • Create an ideal sleep environment: Your bedroom is supposed to be conducive to a good night’s sleep. If it’s not, you need to fix that as soon as possible. Bothered by light? Try blackout curtains or an eye mask. Too much noise? Try earplugs or a white noise sound machine.
  • Get tested for sleep disorders: Untreated sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea can ruin your sleep and continually build up your sleep debt. If you have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, you may not even understand why you’re sleeping so poorly. So if you’re experiencing symptoms like loud snoring, breathing cessation during sleep, waking up too early or taking too long to fall asleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep expert. If you’re not sure where to find an accredited sleep expert or sleep center in your area, I recommend this tool from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

In today’s busy always-on world, it can be tricky to get to sleep at the right time each night. But even on nights where you don’t get to bed on time, it’s vital to make sure you’re asleep before midnight.

This is true even for the night owls out there— getting more of that deep, restful sleep each night is key to ensuring you’re at your best each day, no matter your chronotype.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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