Ask An Expert·4 min read

What’s the Ideal Sleep Schedule? An Expert Weighs In

Dear Expert,

What’s the ideal sleep schedule?

Dear Anonymous,

There’s no perfect time to go to sleep and wake up. Your exact sleep schedule doesn't matter as much as getting about seven to eight hours of quality sleep — whether you go to bed at 10:00 pm or 1:00 am. 

What can I do to sleep better naturally?

Don’t fight against your body's natural rhythm. First, figure out the time your body naturally wakes up. For example, if your body tells you it’s time to wake up at 6 am, your sleep schedule might be 10 pm to 6 am. If you’re a night owl or early bird, it’s perfectly fine to lean into that, as long as you’re getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep, which is about four to six complete sleep cycles per night.

For most people, it may make sense to match your sleep schedule to when you have to be up for work. But you’ll also want to keep in mind what you’d like to do before work — exercise, pack lunch, walk the dog —  and adjust your sleep schedule to incorporate that.

How to fix your sleep schedule

If your sleep schedule is off — whether from jet lag or staying up too late — you can reset it by forcing yourself to wake at the time you’d like to start your day. You might be tired that first morning, but this is one of the fastest ways to get your sleep schedule back on track. When it comes to sleep quality, your circadian rhythm (your internal clock) is one of the most important factors. For most people, the more consistent your sleep schedule, the better you will sleep. 

Think about it like this: If your body naturally wakes at 7 am, but you really need to be up at 6 am, consistently going to bed at the ideal time can slowly help move your circadian rhythm up. The consistency will teach your body when to release melatonin, the hormone that prepares the body for sleep, so you feel tired around the same time each night. But if your sleep schedule is inconsistent, your body will be confused. It may be harder to fall asleep or get enough hours of quality sleep.

That said, sleeping in an extra one or two hours on the weekend is OK — as long as you don’t have other sleep issues. You’ll also want to examine your sleep hygiene. If you’re doomscrolling until late at night or taking long naps during the day, it may impact your sleep quality. Or, if anxiety is keeping you up, try writing down your thoughts or to-do list before you go to bed. 

When to see a doctor or sleep specialist

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is just one element of good sleep hygiene. Other factors can impact your sleep, like certain lifestyle habits and underlying sleep disorders. If your sleep schedule is consistent, but you’re still struggling to get quality sleep, it never hurts to consult with your doctor or a sleep specialist. 

Featured Expert

Julia Kogan

Julia Kogan - Julia Kogan is a sleep coach and health psychologist.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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