Does Your Bedtime Really Matter?
There are a lot of theories in the wellness industry about the optimal bedtime for adults. Some say that going to bed at 10 pm is optimal for cell repair and renewal. Some say that any sleep after midnight is only worth half the value of sleep before midnight.
I used to insist on going to bed at 10 pm every night but as life got busier, 11-11:30 pm became the new norm. But does that 1-1.5 hour delay really make a difference if I sleep in to make up for it? What does science have to say about this? Does bedtime matter, or should we only be concerned about the number of hours of sleep that we’re getting?
Our sleep happens in cycles. On paper, we should have around 4-5 cycles of sleep throughout the night that last 90 minutes each. Within a cycle, we shift between deeper and lighter sleep (non-REM and REM sleep) and then repeat the process in the next cycle, and the next, and so on until it’s time to wake up.
Many scientists agree that the earlier you go to bed, the more time is spent in the deeper phases of sleep during each sleep cycle. As your bed time gets later, you’re more likely to spend a larger chunk of your sleep cycles in a lighter sleep.
Sleeping late can affect memory, thinking, energy levels and other important health factors. Some doctors argue that going to bed no later than midnight is important to get that deeper quality of sleep we need in order to thrive during the day.
Another reason to avoid a late bedtime is the “second wind”. Do you ever notice that at a certain time in the night you go from feeling sleepy and ready for bed to feeling awake again? This is the second wind phenomenon and many people notice it around 10:30-11 pm, although the timing can be different for everyone. Our body’s internal clock seems to have a built-in wakefulness period in the night that causes this second wind. Going to bed around the second wind time can make it harder to fall asleep. Even ancient systems of medicine from different cultures recognize this phenomenon and recommend going to bed before it happens.
So we’ve established that going to bed earlier likely makes for a better quality of sleep. But can an earlier sleep actually help with cell renewal? The sleep hormone, melatonin, rises when the sun sets and it becomes dark outside. Melatonin is an antioxidant and has been shown to play an important role in DNA repair and other very important repair processes. The later into the night that you stay awake (especially if lights and screens are on), the more your melatonin levels are suppressed. This can potentially impact all of the repair processes melatonin is involved in.
Overall, it seems like science doesn’t point to an exact perfect bedtime. But most sources seem to agree that a late bedtime that’s closer to midnight or later is not ideal, even if you sleep in. If you’re feeling groggy in the morning, you might want to consider experimenting with an earlier bedtime to find what works for you. As for me, I’ve recently re-instated my 10 pm rule and I’m absolutely loving it.
Sleeping the right way for your body is a critical step in transforming your physical and mental health. Diet, stress management, digestion, exercise and lifestyle are other key pillars of health. I work on these areas with all of my patients. If you don’t feel your best right now, it’s worth getting expert help to get these core health factors in order so you can give your all to everyone and everything that’s important to you.
Dr. Samantha Dass is currently a naturopathic doctor working at Holland Landing Health Centre in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, which services Holland Landing, Newmarket, Aurora, Keswick and Bradford areas. If you are interested in naturopathic services please contact Holland Landing Health Centre at 905-853-7900 or via e-mail at [email protected].