To all the night owls out there: we get it. Something is calming about the world at night. It might be the only time you have for yourself to indulge in some alone time when the kids are finally asleep. Or you might intend to sleep early but regularly lose track of time bingeing your favorite TV series.
Everyone has different sleep routines and schedules. But, depending on the rest of your life, sleeping late can have serious health consequences. If you work at night or have a flexible work schedule, you may have the freedom to stay up and sleep in late.
But if you’re working a standard 9–5 job, poor sleep hygiene could put you at risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. Low energy levels can also lead to moodiness, poor decision-making, and an increased risk of errors at work.
According to the CDC, adults from 18–60 years old require at least seven hours of sleep per night to avoid these health consequences. Yes, other lifestyle factors can contribute to poor physical and mental well-being. If you can find some extra shut-eye, you can ensure that poor sleep isn’t a contributing factor.
Few things are as upsetting as an early alarm when you’d rather stay in bed. But if you can figure out how to sleep earlier, it will be easier to wake up the next morning. Let’s look at how you can master your sleep schedule.
Why you should sleep early
You might be reluctant to change your sleep schedule. After all, power naps and coffee breaks have worked well so far. But when you’re used to living with chronic fatigue, you might forget all of the benefits that come from a good night’s sleep.
Here are some of the benefits of an earlier sleep time:
- Improved sleep quality. Not all sleep is equal. Usually, we go through 90-minute cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). Non-REM sleep is when deep sleep occurs and is the more restorative of the two. It naturally happens earlier in the night, so an early bedtime will help your sleep feel more restful.
- Reduced risk of disease. Insufficient sleep can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and mental health conditions like depression. It can also negatively impact your immune system, making you more likely to feel sick and stay sick after exposure to a virus, like the common cold or the flu.
- Improved memory. Scientists learn more every day about the impact of sleep on human cognition. So far, they know that proper rest helps your brain store and sort information, burning new knowledge into your long-term memory. It also helps improve your working memory — the short-term storage required to stay focused and attentive.
- More energy. Sleep isn’t only good for your brain; it also helps your body repair itself after the excursions of the day. Bodily functions like muscle growth, protein synthesis, and tissue repair occur while you’re inactive in bed, helping you maintain and improve your physical health.
- Personal time. Waking up early can free up your morning for personal activities before work. You can use this time to meet your reading goals, exercise, or work on your side hustle. Regardless of how you spend it, you’ll feel like you have more time for yourself.
10 tips to sleep earlier
Going to bed early will help you maximize the health benefits of sleep. But when your internal clock is used to a midnight bedtime, laying down at 9 p.m. won’t immediately solve your sleep problems. You’re as likely to stare at the ceiling blankly as you are to drift off right away.
Here’s how to go to bed on time and, more importantly, how to fall asleep earlier:
1. Make incremental changes
You won’t instantly learn how to fall asleep earlier, especially if you’re trying to adjust your sleep time by a few hours. You’ll have to gently reset your circadian rhythm, the body’s mechanism for tracking daily routines, to acclimate to a new sleep schedule.
To do this, set small goals for yourself. Every 2–3 nights, go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual until you reach your desired bedtime. This is a small enough change not to shock your system but still big enough to slowly adjust your body clock.
2. Create a bedtime routine
Developing a routine will help you maintain good sleep habits. Create a to-do list of activities to do every night an hour before bed. This will help you transition from “daytime mode” to “sleep mode,” making it easier to fall asleep at your desired bedtime. For example, you could turn off the TV, meditate, shower, brush your teeth, then read a book before bed.
3. Control the noise in your room
Be mindful of the sounds in your room when you’re ready to sleep. If traffic outside your window regularly wakes you up, consider investing in earplugs. If complete silence makes you uncomfortable, a white noise machine is an effective way to get to sleep.
4. Reduce your blue light exposure
Exposure to blue light suppresses your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. During the day, this helps boost your energy and attention levels — a good thing when you need to be alert. But if you expose yourself to bright lights in the evening, you risk hurting your ability to fall asleep early.
Electronic devices like TVs and smartphones emit blue light from their screens. At a minimum, you should use your devices’ “night mode” to reduce these light emissions. But a better solution would be to stop using devices completely at least an hour before bed.
5. Wake up early every day — even on weekends
Setting the right bedtime is only half the equation; you also must wake up at the correct time the next day. This helps establish your desired sleep-wake cycle and will ensure you’re tired at the correct time in the evening.
For maximum effect, remain consistent. Staying up and sleeping late on weekends is tempting, but it can derail the schedule you establish during the week.
6. Skip the daytime naps
Short power naps of 10–20 minutes shouldn’t be a problem, but any longer will hurt your chances at a healthy sleep pattern. Extended naps lock you into a sleep cycle that involves long naps during the day.
Your circadian rhythm starts to expect daytime sleeps instead of helping you wind down at a healthier hour in the evening. If you’re tired during the day, it’s usually better to power through until you can sleep with the lights out.
7. Watch what you eat before bed
Stimulants like coffee and sugar can severely impact your quality of sleep. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause insomnia, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Walnuts, chamomile tea, and almonds are good alternatives if you’re feeling peckish before bed. Not only can they help you avoid bad bedtime foods, but they have drowsiness-inducing qualities that make them effective sleep aids.
8. Manage your room temperature
Your body temperature naturally fluctuates throughout the day, reaching its coolest point while you’re sleeping a few hours before morning. The science is still out on why this happens, but we know it influences our ability to sleep better.
Our circadian rhythms associate heat with daytime and coolness with nighttime, prompting our bodies to either stay awake or fall asleep based on ambient temperature.
That’s why a colder room promotes sleepiness while a hot room does not. If you can, try to reduce the heat in your space when you’re ready for bed. This will help you fall asleep earlier, promoting a healthier schedule.
9. Consult a sleep specialist
If you regularly struggle to get enough sleep, you may have one of the following sleep disorders:
- Sleep apnea
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
- Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake disorder
- Other underlying health conditions
A doctor or specialist may prescribe sleep medicine or treat the underlying conditions keeping you awake.
10. Use a sleep tracker
Try downloading a sleep tracker to your smartphone to hold you accountable. This is a piece of software that uses your device’s built-in motion detectors, microphones, and accelerometers to measure the quality of your sleep.
It can also alert you when it’s time for bed so you don’t blow past it while distracted by something else or spend extra time looking at blue light.
Some apps even allow you to track your diet, exercise schedule, and bedtime routine so you can see how they affect your sleep quality. A tool like this can help you develop healthy habits that lead to better sleep.
Better sleep is around the corner
Learning how to sleep earlier isn’t easy. When you’re used to late-night TV binges or browsing content on your cell phone, you may find it difficult to go to sleep on time.
But your inner night owl can harm you if you’re not careful. Unless you work the night shift or have a flexible schedule that allows you to sleep in, sleeping late and waking early puts your health at risk.
It’s important to improve your sleep schedule to stay healthy and reap the benefits of a good night’s rest. You may not be a morning person now, but once you settle into a good sleep schedule, we think you might change your mind.