Bedtime Calculator — When should I go to bed?
If you don’t have your own sleep schedule set up, you may ask yourself “when should I go to bed?” every night and the answer might be a simple “7-9 hours before you wish to wake up”, which suits most adults. Using a simple bedtime calculator to render a total figure could be the answer.
Bedtime calculators can be more comprehensive, however. One such bedtime calculator at https://sleepyti.me/ does not calculate one gross sleeping period. Instead, it suggests using cycle lengths of 90 minutes. Going to wake up at 8 am means it would be best to go to sleep at 12:30 am, 2:00 am, or 3:30 am so you’ll be right at the end of a cycle, and hence, well-rested.
Factors That Affect The Time To Go To Bed
Total Sleep Hours
Lack of enough sleep can leave you groggy, or with a headache. Some people complain of “hangover” symptoms without having had any alcohol before going to bed.
Interrupted sleep, if frequent, can upset our whole body chemistry. Good sleep consists of five or six of these cycles. People with the longest lifespans sleep seven hours per night; the shortest lifespans are tied to those getting 10+ hours, followed by those getting just three hours, forming a bowl-shaped graph with seven hours of sleep right in the middle with the lowest risk.
Time To Fall Asleep
Another factor to consider is how long it takes you to fall asleep. The average is one quarter-hour. Certain people can manage it in just two minutes, while others toss and turn for an hour or more. So, maybe your question should be “when should I go to bed?” because there will be a delay that is very particular to you. And if you pay attention, with a couple of “tricks” you will see below, you can learn to fall asleep faster!
Blue Lights Before Sleep
One of the worst things we do that makes us wonder when should I go to sleep, is to use our smartphones, tablets, or any device that has a strong blue-light component (including television). Here’s why: some of our hormones are triggered by a light-response—particularly blue-colored light.
Our bodies make certain chemicals, mainly hormones, which are basically switches that turn things on and off. Some of them are like dimmer switches on your household lights that slide smoothly from zero to medium to full power. Others are strictly on and off. Interestingly, many of them can significantly affect amounts and patterns of sleep.
When we get out-of-kilter and oversleep, or cannot sleep sufficiently, it is almost always hormones to blame. There are other elements that contribute to it such as medications, jetlag, anxiety, depression, alcohol, and diet, but these things simply trigger that hormonal imbalance. It might be a disease process, too.
As one example, if your thyroid gland makes either too much, or too little thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, respectively) you will probably experience sleep difficulties.
Thyroid hormone regulates the “speed” of your body. Too little and you cannot reach full alertness; you’ll end up in a mental fog, unable to concentrate. Too much and you’ll be in high gear constantly, unable to slow down and relax.
Either of these extremes will have a profound effect on sleep quality. Fortunately, it can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, and often treated with a simple pill.
Serotonin behaves as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It helps our brain cells communicate and it triggers effects such as hunger, social behavior, mood, sleep/wakefulness, dreams and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycles.
If it is too little, the body cannot make melatonin, the hormone which is directly responsible for our sleep and wake cycles. That serotonin deficit (clinicians believe) causes depression, which is why sleeplessness, or severe over-sleeping, go hand in hand with depression, and why we’ve invented drugs called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) to treat depression by preventing the brain from reabsorbing the serotonin at its usual rate. Even if we make too little, if it stays around longer, our bodies respond as if we had normal production.
The body makes serotonin when exposed to bright light, and makes melatonin when it is dark. Researchers attribute SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), especially prevalent in the far north or south latitudes, to a lack of sunlight. It can be treated with serotonin supplements, but even better, simulated daylight therapy is highly effective.
One particularly creative town in Norway, named Rjukan, located in a narrow valley between two huge mountains, didn’t see the Sun from September 28th to March 12th. By the simple expedient of placing three computer-controlled tracking mirrors on one mountain in 2013, they now have a sunlit town square that makes people extraordinarily happy.
And that brings us full-circle back to light stimulation. If we’re making a lot of serotonin our bodies want to stay awake. So instead of asking “what time should I go to bed” we’d be better off asking: “what time should I put away my light generating electronics?” The answer is at least an hour before when I should go to bed. And more is better. Two hours, great! Three hours, fantastic.
Now, of course, we should not forbid our children from having their devices for several hours before bedtime. They need an explanation—and then let them surrender their devices on their own, at a time of their choosing—so they feel a part of the solution, instead of a victim.
Playing board games, or other family activities that don’t involve electronics would be a great starting place. A little backyard badminton would be fun and make it easier to get to sleep, too.
Consider reading a real made-from-paper book, with an old-fashioned incandescent bulb (which has very little blue light)—that could be a nice variation. Once we establish habits like these, falling asleep will be much easier.
Pretty soon the questions “when should I go to bed” and “when should I go to sleep” will have exactly the same answer because you will be one of those elite few that sleep almost instantly when their heads hit that pillow!