What is the Scientifically Best Time to Go to Sleep?

Sleep is the most important factor in our physical and mental health and is dictated by our circadian rhythm. This natural cycle is a 24-hour oscillation that dictates how your body takes care of its many functions. Properly balanced circadian rhythms can greatly impact your quality of sleep, your mental health, and even your metabolism, and are also heavily impacted by these factors.

As a result, many people ask, “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” for their overall health. That’s an important question to answer because it can help you set a consistent sleep schedule. Our bodies crave consistency in our sleep, and sticking to the same patterns will ensure that you rest easily and keep your circadian rhythm properly balanced and healthy.

So, what is the best time to go to bed and wake up? Well, that will depend on diverse influences, including your personal rest needs and even your behavior patterns. Thankfully, we can help you understand the best time to go to sleep and wake up, dive deep into this diverse subject, and ensure that you get the inside information you need to rest well every night, no matter what.

Factors Influencing Optimal Bedtime

Answering the question “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” is more in-depth than you might imagine. There are multiple factors that can impact the best time for everybody to go to bed and wake up. For you, the best time to go to sleep and wake up might be very different from your best friend, based on what we call your sleep’s internal and external factors.

Internal Factors

When answering the question, “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” we’ll examine the internal factors that can greatly affect your sleep quality. These refer to physical and emotional elements that can impact your life in general and change the best time to go to bed and wake up for you. These are just a few of the most important factors to keep in mind here.


As you get older, your need to sleep might change dramatically. Some people need to sleep far less every night but nap regularly throughout the day. Furthermore, things like bodily pain and even nighttime bathroom trips (very common as we get older) can impact your sleep quality. Circadian rhythms may also change as we age and make sleep less important for our health.


The best time to go to sleep and wake up will also vary depending on your lifestyle. For example, people who eat lots of unhealthy foods, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, enjoy caffeine, or rarely work out might struggle to find a good sleep pattern. People who go out and party every night will also struggle to sleep properly or may rest longer into the day.


Science has identified four chronotypes of sleep preferences. These include the Lion (15% of the population — prefers waking up early), Bear (55% of the population — wakes up and sleeps with the sun), Wolf (15% of the population — your classic night owl), and Dolphin (10% of the population — closer to the classic insomniac sleep pattern).

External Factors

Beyond those internal factors that impact your sleep patterns, there are many eternal issues that can affect your ability to rest. As a result, answering the question, “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” requires understanding these concerns and addressing them properly. Let’s take a brief look at each of these problems to give you an idea of how they impact your health.

Work Schedules

If you work second and third shifts, the best time to go to sleep and wake up will vary. Obviously, waking up at 6 am and staying awake until midnight to work on a third shift is not plausible. As a result, you’ll have to change your patterns of sleeping. With time, your circadian rhythm should adjust — but those first few days or even weeks can be quite challenging to tolerate.


There’s nothing more devastating to our physical and emotional health than stress. A pandemic of anxiety and stress impacts the modern world on just about every level, including sleep. If you live a stressful life or just don’t react well to it, your circadian rhythms can be thrown off, and the best time to go to bed and wake up will be very different than it would be for others.

Environmental Cues

Your surrounding environment can also greatly impact how well you sleep. For example, if you live in a big city, you might struggle to sleep soundly due to vehicle noises, bright lights, and sirens. Furthermore, some people have a hard time sleeping when it’s too quiet and need music playing to calm their minds. Whatever the situation, you need to adjust your environmental cues to sleep well.

Understanding Sleep Cycles

Now, the best time to go to bed for optimal health will focus on whether you give yourself enough time to go through the sleep cycle. The sleep cycle includes four stages that recur multiple times throughout the night. It’s important for your body to get into the fourth stage, as it’s here that you receive the most restorative benefits. Let’s examine these cycles in depth now.

Stage 1

Stage 1 lasts between 1-5 minutes and includes a shift from being awake to sleep. It’s non-REM sleep (more on that later) that gradually slows your heart rate, eye movements, brain waves, and breathing. Your muscles should relax, though you might get that weird “sleep twitch” that causes you to jerk. Basically, this stage is your body getting ready to fall deep into rest.

Stage 2

During Stage 2 (which lasts about 25 minutes and accounts for about 50% of your sleep), your muscles relax further, and your eyes stop moving. Your body temperature should also drop. Note that this stage increases in length with each new sleep cycle. Sleep cycles typically last around 100 minutes on average, though this can vary heavily based on your circadian rhythms.

Stage 3

Stage 3 accounts for your deepest sleep and includes slow but steady heart, breathing, and brain wave rates. You’ll get 30-60 minutes of this rest with each cycle. Unlike Stage 2, your time in Stage 3 sleep decreases with each cycle. If you’ve ever woken up groggy and unable to get yourself going in the morning, you likely woke up during Stage 3 and need a little time to recover from it.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is where the real fun begins as you sleep. Lasting just 10 minutes in your first cycle and up to an hour in your final cycle, Stage 4 is where you experience rapid eye movement or REM rest. It’s when your brain will come up with those amazing dreams that seem to come out of nowhere. However, you might also dream in other stages — it’s just a lot rarer.

How Sleep Cycles Affect Your Restorative Sleep

Each stage of the sleep cycle plays an important restorative role in your body and mind. Going through all four stages gives your body and mind time to regain energy and rebuild lost protein connections. It also helps your unconscious work through your emotional concerns through dreaming. Giving yourself enough time to get through them is vital for proper rest.

Scientific Recommendations for Bedtime

Over the years, scientists have come up with multiple suggestions that can help you sleep better. For example, doctors suggest getting at least seven hours of sleep a night to get the best rest possible. So if you wake up at six in the morning every day, you should be asleep no later than 11 pm.

Furthermore, they argue it’s better to sleep early rather than late because the natural patterns of the sun dictate so much of our rest, even for people of different chronotypes. That said, this factor can be influenced by personal preferences and your life schedule, such as your career.

As a result, answering the question, “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” results in a somewhat inconclusive answer. Generally, it’s best to go to sleep early and wake up after about seven hours. Any more or less, you’ll wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle and fall into sleep debt.

Sleep Debt: Can You Make It Up?

Sleep debt is something that most people are probably all too aware of in their lives. It occurs when you simply don’t get the proper amount of sleep — either too much or too little. According to studies, it can take four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep — a heavy debt on your body and mind.

Many people try to “catch up” or repay their sleep debt by snoozing later on the weekends. New studies show that resting on the weekend can help recover some of your sleep debt but that sleeping in too much (such as 10 hours) can actually make the problem worse. It’s simply best to time your sleep properly.

Practical Tips for Improving Sleep Timing

When deciding on the best time to go to sleep and wake up, it’s critical to improve your sleep timing and rest more effectively. It can provide many benefits, such as an increase in productivity throughout your day that can make you happier. Just a few tips to consider include:

  • Get sunlight throughout the day to control your circadian rhythms
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes a day to rest easier
  • Stop drinking caffeine after 3 pm to avoid overstimulation
  • Stay consistent by going to bed and waking up regularly
  • Turn off your phones and computers an hour before bed
  • Get the temperature at about 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Make the room as dark and quiet as possible before sleeping
  • Find something you enjoy doing before bed to relax your mind — reading, meditation, etc.
  • Quit smoking and drinking to avoid affecting your circadian rhythms adversely

Debunking Common Myths About Sleep Timing

Now that you have a better idea of the answer to the question, “What is the scientifically best time to go to sleep?” Let’s examine some common myths about sleep timing. Falling victim to these untruths can make it harder for you to choose the best time to go to sleep and wake up.

Myth: You Can Get Used to Missing Sleep

Fact: Continual sleep deprivation will cause serious physical and emotional problems.

Myth: Sleeping Longer Can Help You Rest Easier

Fact: Sleep quality and proper sleep timing (getting those seven hours a night) matter more.

Myth: Everybody Should Sleep at the Same Time

Fact: People have different preferences and lifestyles that impact their proper sleep timing.

Myth: If You Can’t Fall Asleep, Just Stay in Bed

Fact: Experts actually suggest getting out of bed and relaxing if you’re awake after 30 minutes.

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

Recommended Articles


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