When Should I Go To Sleep For Ideal Mental Health?
Updated February 16, 2020
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Have you wondered, "When should I go to sleep for ideal mental health?" That is a good question and an important one. You may also be noticing that you feel tired even though you do get to bed at a decent hour, or you are having trouble falling asleep. The truth is that lack of quality sleep can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health. Lack of sleep contributes to fatigue, difficulties with focus, concentration and decision-making, irritability, and low mood, among other symptoms. Lack of sleep also makes your immune system less able to fight off germs and illness.
The results of a study by Strine, T. W., & Chapman, D. P. (2005) found that among almost 80,000 participants:
"An estimated 26% of adults reported frequent sleep insufficiency. They were significantly more likely than those without frequent sleep insufficiency to report fair/poor general health, frequent physical distress, frequent mental distress, activity limitations, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and pain."
Therefore, if you have insomnia or poor quality of sleep, it is important to get to the root of the problem, ideally before your health starts to suffer. If you are already experiencing some of the effects of lack of sleep, there are things you can do to improve your sleeping habits so that you can be healthier overall.
So, When Should I Go to Sleep for Ideal Mental Health?
You might be thinking, "Does the time I go to sleep matter as long as I get enough sleep?" That is another good question. It might seem like if you are getting the standard 8 hours, you should be set whether you go to bed at 9 pm or 2 am. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In an article for Time Magazine titled What's the Best Time to Sleep, You Asked, Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley shared that the best time to go to sleep is between 8 pm and 12 am. This is because if you go to sleep during this window, you will spend more time in deep, rejuvenating sleep instead of lighter sleep.
If you can get yourself to bed around the same time every night within this period, you should start to see improvements in your sleep quality. The problem is that life does not always work out that way. It could be that you have insomnia, work the night shift, or you have a baby that wakes up every few hours during the night.
Suggestions for Good Sleep Hygiene
If you can't necessarily control the time that you go to sleep every night, there are a few things that you can do to improve your quality of sleep when you do hit the sack.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine that you follow daily can prepare your mind and body for sleep. Your routine can include things like drinking a cup of herbal tea, diffusing calming essential oils, reading a good book, getting in a bedtime yoga or other relaxation practice, or taking a warm bath or shower. The importance of the routine is that you do the same things every day, which cues your brain to wind down for sleeping.
Help your body get tired at the end of the day by making sure that you are getting daily exercise. Exercise helps you to feel energized during the day, and a worked-out body helps you to feel more tired when it comes time to sleep.
Do Not Sleep During the Day
If you sleep for long periods during the day, when it comes time to go to sleep at night, your brain just will not be tired. Naps have been shown to be effective at regenerating a tired mind, but do not allow yourself to sleep more than 45 minutes if you are napping during the day.
Talk to a Counselor
If stress and anxiety are keeping you up at night, it might be a good idea to see a counselor, either in-person or through an online counseling service like BetterHelp. A counselor can guide you to work on problems you have the power to change and accept what you cannot so you can go to sleep with less on your mind. Sleep problems can be indicative of serious mental health problems, such as depression, so if you are experiencing a major change in your sleep patterns that have lasted more than two weeks, it is recommended that you seek professional help.
If you feel like your lack of sleep has been impacting your mental health, it is very important to take some new steps to improve your rest. Experiment with the tips above to figure out what works best for you and do not underestimate the power of a good (short) nap.