science of us

The Best Time to Go to Bed is 8:45

Photo: Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images

A few days ago, my esteemed new co-worker Edith Zimmerman offered some advice: try getting up really, really early in the morning. Many people (mostly, perhaps, those who already get up early to begin with) were immediately convinced. Others were not. A friend of mine who knows I also get up well before sunrise remarked that while she knew that people like Edith and I had it right, she’d tried it, and she simply couldn’t convert to the early-bird lifestyle. I told her I knew why. I have an amendment to Edith’s advice, and you’re going to hate it even more than you hated hers.

If you’re going to get up early — really early — you should also go to bed at 8:45.

I know. You’re upset, and probably embarrassed for me. That’s fine. As a teenager it would have bothered me if you thought I was a loser with no social life and a toddler’s sleep schedule, but as a grown adult, I am simply too tired to care. You know how people say “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.,” or sometimes, “Nothing good happens after midnight”? Too late. I say: Nothing good happens. Haha, no. What I mean is: Nothing good happens after you’ve been up for 16 hours. Sure, you can make yourself stay up well beyond the point at which you start yawning, but then again, why? You’re still letting FOMO rule your life? In 2018? Go to bed!

I will concede that having a routine bedtime is good for you, so if that means you need to make yours 10 p.m. instead of 8:45, I don’t endorse it, but I understand it. I myself often go to bed at 9:10, or even 9:30. Sometimes later, if there is a party, or if Shakira has a concert I need to go to at Madison Square Garden. But most nights, I am in bed by 8:45, reading my usual two-and-a-half pages of whatever book I’m struggling to stay awake through at that time. That way, I’m asleep by 9:15, and turning off my alarm at 5:15 a.m.: a perfect eight-hour night. At first it might feel like you’re missing things, but eventually you will be so well rested, and so well adjusted, that you’ll float above such petty concerns.

So how do you do it? Hopefully you get off work at 5, or even 4, in which case you don’t need me at all, but if you get done at 6, like I do, here’s what you do: get home around 6:30*. Put your pajamas on already (optional but encouraged). Eat dinner while watching two episodes of a half-hour show, or one episode of an hour show. Now it’s 8. Maybe you’d like a nice bath, or if the show is good, a little bit more of the show, or a book. You’re finally too relaxed to think about what time it is. (It’s 8:45.) So you go to bed. (*Make adjustments as needed in the event of a social life, in which case you have between the hours of 6–8:15 to meet with friends and/or a date.)

I’m exaggerating, slightly, but look: sleep is really, really good for you. It might be the most unimpeachably human behavior there is. You almost certainly need more of it, and you do that by setting aside a bigger chunk of time in which to do it. If you’re going to get up early (and I agree that you should, for all the reasons Edith stated), then you need to go to bed early, too. I can’t speak highly enough about 8:45.

The Best Time to Go to Bed Is 8:45