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Identifying Your Perfect Bedtime

With all of the tricks and technology available to help us get a good night’s sleep, you’d think that we all would be getting the rest that we need each and every night. Yet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has expressed concern that sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportion in the United States, and health advocates continue to cite chronic health conditions associated with lack of sleep.

One sleep expert believes that the answer to getting the right amount of sleep lies in simply going to bed at the right time each night Dr. Michael Breus is a PhD and board-certified sleep specialist and author of the book Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. He believes that there is a simple formula to determining the right bedtime and it is based on the length of the sleep cycle rather than on the iconic 8 hours of sleep that is traditionally recommended. “The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes long, and the average human has five of those sleep cycles per night.” That calculates out to 7.5 hours, and that’s what Breus believe is what is needed. So his recommendation on how to get that 7.5 hours is, “Work backward from your wake-up time. That’s socially determined by when you have to get up to get to work, get the kids ready, all those external factors.”

In other words, look at your daily life and it’s requirements. Need to be up to get the kids to school? The time you get up for them is the time you need to count backwards from. Have to start getting ready for work at 7 a.m. but like to get half an hour of running in beforehand? You probably need to be up by 6:15. Whatever the time, count back 7.5 hours from there, but make sure you’re also giving yourself another half an hour or so to fall asleep.

Breus says that you need to give yourself time to establish a habit and let your body adjust. “Follow that bedtime for ten days in a row and you’ll begin, quite naturally, to wake up a few minutes before your alarm clock sounds.” Breus says that the human circadian system works best when it is consistent. “Sleeping in on the weekends causes your system to shift and makes you want to go to bed later and wake up later.” Though he acknowledges that we all have social interests and obligations that make it difficult, he also says that allowing yourself to slip into that habit is the equivalent of putting yourself into something he calls “social jet lag.”

Breus understands that people might have a hard time adjusting to a new sleep cycle, and particularly with falling asleep earlier than is your normal habit, but he says that your body will adjust if you stick to the schedule. “It’s all about the wake-up time,” he says. “I don’t care if you can’t fall asleep at 11 pm initially. If you are consistent about getting up at 6:30 a.m. every morning, your body will adjust.”

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