It's the end of a long week, and you want nothing more than to fall on your bed and call it a day. However, you sit in front of the glowing screens of your laptop or television and rewatch the first season of your favourite TV show. Or you grab your favourite book and read a few chapters. Or you scroll through your favourite social media app, checking what your friends are doing.
Why do people sleep late?
In truth, most of us are exhausted. Despite this, we do not go to sleep at the most sensible hour and spend more time on activities that make more sense at other times of the day. In the past year, the term "revenge bedtime procrastination" has made its way around the internet.
As the pandemic has disrupted our lives since 2020, studies show that people tend to work or study for long periods and have a hard time dealing with anxious thoughts and feelings. This has led people to stay up later than usual. "Revenge bedtime procrastination" happens when you lose control over your daytime activities and regain that freedom by sleeping late.
With our gradual adjustment to the Work From Home setup, it is easy to become occupied with work and responsibilities. The result: people become over-scheduled and only have free time when it's time to sleep.
According to psychologist Briony Leo, as humans, we crave a sense of balance in our lives where we can have a portion of our day where we can unwind and do low-energy activities. When our brains are no longer governed by a set schedule, our bodies can relax and wind down.
When people are "over-scheduled" and stressed, they are also more likely to choose short term rewards like eating junk food and staying up late. As they feel overwhelmed at the moment, they look for things that can satisfy their distress right away instead of choosing long-term rewards like getting enough sleep or saving money.
Why sleeping early is important
In the UK's National Health Service survey for 2018, 1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep. Despite the short reprieve that "revenge bedtime procrastination" provides, there are many reasons why sleeping late is not a healthy habit. The deep sense of exhaustion the following day is not a great feeling to have. Here are the following reasons.
- You suffer emotionally: Your grumpiness or hot temper is possibly the most immediate effect of sleep deprivation you will experience. Two things can happen: people can overreact when something unpleasant happens, or they can be less excited when something good happens.
Studies show that people who lack sleep experience more negative moods than positive ones. If this becomes a chronic problem, people also become more likely to develop mood disorders.
- You suffer mentally: It's no surprise that getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep can positively impact your mental health and well-being. Aside from making you easily irritable and exhausted in the short term, you are also more likely to develop mental issues from lack of sleep. You will have trouble thinking and concentrating on easy tasks and have difficulty remembering new information.
In one study, the researchers learned that sleep is one of the catalysts to different mental health problems. Not getting enough hours that you need can trigger different psychological issues, which can also cause you to lose sleep.
During the mornings, that lack of sleep can make it more difficult for people to cope with minor stress. People may find themselves feeling frustrated or frazzled by normal annoyances. In different studies as well, people who suffer from sleeping problems are found to have a higher risk of developing depression more than people who don't have problems with sleep. The same can be said for anxiety disorders.
These problems can also be exacerbated when people experience chronic sleep disturbances.
- You suffer physically: Aside from draining your mental abilities and causing mood swings, poor sleep also weakens your immune system and makes you prone to sickness. When you go to sleep your immune system produces antibodies and cytokines that fight off bacteria and viruses. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead you to develop diabetes and heart disease, as you're not allowing your body to rest and recuperate properly. You also become more vulnerable to respiratory infections such as the common cold and flu.
If you have trouble losing weight, it might not be an eating or exercising issue but a sleeping issue instead. When you lack sleep, your body will release hormones that stimulate your appetite. This can explain why people eat midnight snacks or overeat later in the evening. Because you feel tired the next morning, you may also be less motivated to exercise. Overall, these factors can cause obesity.
For children and adolescents, their growth hormone production can be affected. This will hinder their body to build up muscle mass and repair cells and tissues.
How much sleep does each age group need?
The following age groups differ based on their body's development and needs.
- Newborn: At 0 to 3 months old, newborn babies need a lot of time to develop their bones and internal organs. Because of this, they will usually need 14 to 17 hours of sleep.
- Infant: As the baby reaches 4 to 11 months old, their need for sleep slightly decreases to 12 to 15 hours only.
- Toddler: Once the baby reaches 1 to 2 years old, they will only need around 11 to 14 hours of sleep.
- Preschool: When they start school and are finally weaned off breast milk, the child will need 10 to 13 hours of sleep. During these years, their sleep will greatly impact their cognitive functions and appetite.
- Adolescent: As the child grows older and reaches 6 to 13 years of age, they are recommended to sleep for 9 to 11 hours.
- Teenagers: When they turn 14 to 17 years old, their physical activity increases a lot more. This causes their sleep requirement to decrease to 8 to 10 hours.
- Young Adult and Adult: When teenagers step into young adulthood (18 to 25 years old), they will only need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. This will continue when they become a full-fledged adult at 26 to 64 years old.
- Elderly: Since the elderly don't need a lot of growth hormone, they experience a decrease in deep sleep. It is common for older people to have fragmented sleep and wake up more often at nighttime.
While these are a rule-of-thumb, it's important to acknowledge that the ideal number of hours will vary per person. However, sleeping more or fewer hours than the optimal range is no longer recommended.
Deciding how much sleep you need will depend on your health and everyday habits and patterns. Here are some questions that can help you assess your sleep needs:
- Are you productive, healthy, and happy after seven hours of sleep? Or do you need more hours of sleep to function properly?
- Do you have any health issues? Are you more prone to get sick?
- Do you have a lot of activities in a day, like sports or construction?
- Do your activities require alertness, like driving or operating heavy machinery? Do you often feel sleepy doing these activities?
- Are you currently having sleeping problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine or food to get you through the day?
- On the weekends or off-days, do you tend to sleep in?
Why is a sleep schedule important?
We want to encourage you to sleep regularly. Let's say that you do sleep for 7 hours on the weekdays, the minimum recommended time for adults. However, you sleep for 10 to 11 hours on the weekend. Just like having poor sleeping habits, having an irregular sleep schedule can have negative effects on your body. If you have a habit of falling asleep early on the weekdays, but end up binging on a show on the weekend and falling asleep at 3 am, you're still at risk for developing heart disease.
In a study conducted by Harvard University last 2019, they monitored the sleep times of around 2000 adults for six years. The research defined a regular sleep time as falling asleep within the same 30-minute window on average. They found that straying far from your regular sleep schedule wasn't good for your health. Participants who had an irregular sleep schedule doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease within the next five years. This means their sleeping times differed every day in one week.
The same study also discussed how every one-hour changes in the length of time someone sleeps, there is a 27% higher chance of developing metabolic problems and increasing their risk of heart issues.
For reference, the research shows that if people's bedtime varied between 60 to 90 minutes, they have a 14% more chance of having metabolic issues. When the time variation increases to 90 minutes or more, your risk increases to 58%.
This problem is common with participants who worked varying shifts, smoked several cigarettes or suffered from a mental illness. For some, it can be difficult to fall asleep because of anxious thoughts. For others, they found it difficult to sleep because their internal body clock is confused with the time.
10 steps to help you go to bed early
Here are ten methods you can follow to help you go to bed early.
- Create a consistent sleeping schedule
Many of us tend to go to bed at different times. This, however, should not stop us from trying to make a consistent sleeping schedule and help our body's circadian rhythm.
When some of us try to sleep early and find it hard to fall asleep right away, our body is still adjusting to the new bedtime you're trying to set. Instead of incurring sleep debt from past nights and trying to sleep in during the weekend, we recommend going to bed and getting up around the same time.
If you're trying to sleep earlier, try moving your sleeping schedule earlier by 30 minutes. Your internal body clock will have an easier time inducing sleep and wakefulness. Once you wake up, avoid staying in bed as well. The temptation to sleep for a few more minutes can turn into another hour of idleness and can delay your bedtime.
- Turn off all the lights and cut off all noise
Since your circadian rhythm is dependent on environmental cues, factors such as light and noise train your brain to distinguish nighttime from daytime. Before bedtime, we recommend dimming your room to induce sleepiness. As you get sleepier, you can turn all your light sources off.
Noise also lowers your quality of sleep. A 2016 study supports this by reporting that participants who slept in a hospital setting had worse sleep than when they were at home. The participants cited the level of noise in the hospital as their primary reason.
If there's no way to eliminate the source of noise at night time, you can try wearing earplugs at night or using a white noise machine to lessen the sound.
- Avoid daytime napping
While 15-minute power naps can help you refocus during the day, naps that last longer than two hours can confuse your circadian rhythm and keep you from falling asleep at night.
One study tested this hypothesis by monitoring college students and their relationship with sleep. College students who napped for more than two hours at least three times per week had poorer sleep quality than their peers who napped less frequently.
Though it can be tempting to nap after a poor sleep experience, we recommend avoiding taking long ones to avoid disrupting your sleep schedule.
- Exercise during the day
Aside from getting enough sleep, physical exercise positively impacts your health and sleep quality.
A study surveyed 305 people over 40 years old with sleeping difficulties. After going through moderate or high-intensity programs, they reported that their sleep quality improved to the point where they took their sleep medication less frequently. Exercise releases endorphins, keeping you awake throughout the day and lessens your stress levels.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend doing high-intensity exercises during the morning or afternoon and only stretching exercises before bedtime. These exercises can raise your temperature and heart rate and can also delay your sleepiness.
- Avoid using your phone before sleep
Using your cell phones before bedtime affects your sleep, because of the blue light emission and also the addictive nature of social media and phone games.
Another study on college students found that the participants who have more phone use problems, such as addictive texting, social media scrolling, and online gaming, also have a lower sleep quality.
While most of the current research only focuses on young adults and students, it is still important to be mindful of your media consumption before bed. It is easy to find something interesting online and waste your night scrolling through the world wide web. We recommend setting your phone aside around an hour or 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Do relaxing activities
If you have a problem falling asleep, you can try reading a book, listening to music or meditating to help your brain relax. Self-help books and meditation books seem to work best, as they prevent emotional responses and help you reflect and relax.
While this may not work for everyone, listening to relaxing music can help people prepare for bed. Their response, however, will depend on their taste in music and their mood for the day. We recommend being cautious as certain music may be too stimulating and hinder you from falling asleep.
Meditation can help reduce your anxiety, as you are teaching yourself to be mindful of your breathing by bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol
Caffeine stimulates your brain to wakefulness and can disrupt your sleep schedule. We recommend avoiding caffeine at least 4 hours before bed. If you love drinking coffee, we suggest only limiting your intake in the morning or early afternoon.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, it is a diuretic and can cause your bladder to fill up in the middle of the night. You can expect many trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night if you have alcohol.
- Avoid heavy meals
Along with caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, we also recommend staying away from heavy meals 1 hour to 30 minutes before bedtime. Lying down right after a heavy meal may feel uncomfortable and even cause indigestion. When you go to bed, your organs also take this as a sign to rest and recuperate. Eating before that can disrupt your stomach even further.
- Adjust your thermostat and use an electric underblanket
When it comes to your room temperature, your room should not be too cold or too hot as either extreme can negatively impact your sleep.
If your room is too cold, you will start to have chills and start waking up in the middle of the night. If the room is too warm, however, you may wake up from night sweats or even have a difficult time falling asleep. When promoting deep sleep, we recommend keeping the room temperature between 60.8 to 64.4°F (16 to 18°C).
You can also use an electric underblanket to help you stay warm and cosy throughout the night.
- Try breathing exercises
While you're in bed, try breathing exercises to help you relax and de-stress. As you're taking deep breaths, take your mind off anxious thoughts and focus on inhaling and exhaling.
A commonly practised breathing exercise is the "4-7-8 breathing", where you inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Once you get used to the rhythm, you will slowly find yourself falling asleep.
Practicing your routine
What day is it? Deciding to sleep earlier shouldn't only happen when the weekend comes. Overall, it is the commitment to make healthier choices throughout the day so that you can sleep earlier when nighttime comes.
Designing a comfortable sleeping environment is helpful in helping you sleep early. You will look forward to relaxing in bed and fall asleep naturally.
We’ve written a completely free ebook on this topic. Download this free ebook and start creating the best sleeping environment at home!