science of us

Every Adult Should Have a Bedtime

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It has come to my recent attention that not every adult goes to bed at roughly the same time every night. Why, I can’t say. If you are home, and it’s dark outside, and you know when you have to get up in the morning, how (and why?) would anyone choose to stay up beyond the point at which they can reasonably hope to get a solid seven hours of sleep? I don’t understand it! If you have insomnia, sure, but if you CAN go to sleep and just … don’t? Why? What could possibly be a better use of time?

Not only is a regular bedtime just about the most enjoyable habit available to us living things, but it is extremely good for us. Surveying a group of nearly 2,000 “healthy” sleepers (i.e. no diagnosed sleep disorders) between the ages of 45 and 84, researchers from the Duke University Medical Center found that adults who experience insufficient sleep duration, interrupted sleep cycles, and irregular bed- and waking-times face increased cardiometabolic risk, which refers to the risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease, greater obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

While the researchers acknowledge that their study only shows an association between irregular sleep and cardiometabolic risk, it’s likely that irregular sleep contributes to other patterns which may also result in health problems, like reduced physical activity and increased perceived stress and depression.

The good news is that the human body likes routine, and if you can get yourself to get in bed at (or near) the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, your body should start to adjust accordingly. And yes, that includes weekends — sleeping in two or three hours later on a Sunday is going to make it harder to meet your new bedtime that night. But that doesn’t mean you need to start a strict 9 p.m.–5 a.m. sleep schedule, though that is what I do and I highly recommend it. To find a bedtime habit that works for you, start slow: in bed no later than 10:30 p.m., for instance. Seems late to me, but it’s your life.

Every Adult Should Have a Bedtime