Why You Should Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day
If you have resolved to sleep better, you may be overwhelmed with where to even begin. When sleep problems creep into your life, it can be difficult to identify the entangled issues and set things right. Chances are that your trouble sleeping didn't fully develop overnight, so allow yourself the time you need to improve your sleep. Together let's set out on the path to better sleep—starting by learning how to wake and get up at the same time every day!
The Importance of Setting a Consistent Wake Time
The first challenge may seem inconsequential, but it typically yields results quickly: Wake up at the same time every day, including weekends or days off. Ideally, you would be able to sleep as much as you need to and wouldn't wake with an alarm clock, but to begin with you can use one.
You should select a wake time that you can observe every day, including weekdays and weekends. For most people, this would mean selecting a time that would allow you to get to work or school during the week and then getting up at the same time on Saturday and Sunday.
Once you have selected your wake time, consider whether it is feasible. This isn't about making yourself an early bird if you start out as a night owl. Though society may pressure you into believing that waking earlier is somehow better—more moral, reflective of a hard-working nature, etc.—what evidence is there for this? Plenty of successful people stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep in until 10 a.m., so don't fall into that trap.
Consider your own body and your own needs. Pick a wake-up time that you can maintain and don't let it be too early or inconsistent with your typical, natural pattern in the recent past.
Anchoring the Circadian Rhythm with Morning Sunlight
Why does it matter to wake up at the same time every day? Think of your wake time as the anchor to your day. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm and this relies on consistency. There are many things that you do at about the same time every day, not the least of which is sleep. Anchoring your wake time in place is a cue to your body about when you should be awake and when you should be asleep.
Anchoring your wake time in place is a cue to your body about when you should be awake and when you should be asleep.
A key part of waking at the same time each day may also be betting exposure to 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight upon awakening. This reinforces the body's circadian rhythm and enhances wakefulness in the morning. If necessary, consider the use of a light box in the winter months.
Waking at the same time every day will actually help you to sleep better at night. A fixed wake time helps to build a strong desire for sleep throughout wakefulness. This sleep drive gradually builds, and shortening it by sleeping in will make it harder to fall asleep the next night. If you sleep in 2 hours on a Sunday morning, it is just like trying to go to bed 2 hours early that night. This may cause Sunday night insomnia. A fixed wake time is especially important for people who have difficult falling or staying asleep, characteristic of insomnia.
The Benefits of a Fixed Wake Time
By getting up at the same time every day, you may yield some unexpected benefits. With improved sleep, insomnia and sleep deprivation may be decreased. Consider the following bonuses for observing a fixed wake time:
Easier to wake up
Less morning sleep inertia
Easier to fall asleep (less insomnia)
Decreased sleep deprivation
Reduced caffeine dependence
Sharper focus and short-term memory
Better immune system function
Better safety and job performance
Safe and attentive driving
Who wouldn't want even some of these improvements?
Avoid Hitting Snooze and Force Yourself to Get Up
It is important that when your alarm goes off at your selected wake time, you get up. You cannot hit the snooze and stay in bed for an hour or even 9 minutes. You want consistency, and this requires ruling yourself with an iron fist. You might put your alarm clock across the room if you are apt to hit the snooze while half asleep. It may be necessary to set multiple alarms or even initially enroll someone else to help get you up. In order to track your success, you can record your bedtime and wake time on a sleep log. This information will be useful as you implement further changes to improve your sleep.
When to Consult With a Sleep Specialist
If you struggle to wake in the morning, there may be a bigger problem underlying your difficulty. Poor sleep commonly occurs in the context of another sleep disorder. Most often, insomnia and sleep apnea may be causing persistent troubles. If despite your best efforts you can't seem to make any progress, seek evaluation by a board-certified sleep specialist.
This article was originally published on VeryWellHealth.com and written by Dr. Brandon Peters, a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.
If adhering to a fixed wake time daily proves to be a difficult task for you, Very Well suggests that you allow yourself 1 to 2 weeks of consistency in your wake times before you make further changes to sleep better. For further advice to optimize your sleep and resolve insomnia, consider participating in a cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) program available online or through a psychologist.