Waking up at the same time every day: the one thing that is guaranteed to improve your sleep

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

I’m not a huge fan of sleep tips. As a coach, I prefer to give personalised guidance. I like to know about your history of sleep, your personality, your current situation, your habits, your beliefs and your goals. Then can we create a realistic and effective sleep plan tailored to you.

However, if you really pushed me, I would have to say that my number one, easiest to implement sleep tip that is generally beneficial to everyone, is to wake up at the same time every day, during the week and at the weekend.

Wake-up time and your circadian rhythm

The time that you wake up is so important for sleep because it is an anchor point for your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock that governs, among other things, your sleep-wake cycle.

All living things have a circadian rhythm, from fungi to chimpanzees and of course, humans. “The morning songs of birds, the foraging behavior of the squirrels in autumn, and the human tendency to get a little blue in the winter all represent the natural rhythms of life” The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, 2005.

It is an internally driven cycle that is governed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain but is played out in every cell of your body. “Within yourself, your organelles and proteins and genes have stuff to do. It has to happen in a certain order and that requires a clock” explains Alan Burdick, author of Why Time Flies: A mostly scientific investigation.

Your circadian rhythm is unique to you and genetic, you cannot change it. Because of this, there is not an ideal time when you should wake up in the morning, it really depends on your own biology – and other commitments!

This master clock in your SCN has three important messages for you: when you should fall asleep to get the best night possible – “your sleep window”, how much sleep you need and what time you should wake up in the morning. Are you a 9pm to 5am type of person, or a 1am to 8am type of person?

By becoming more attuned to your natural rhythm and cycles and keeping a consistent schedule, you will find it easier to wake up in the morning, have more energy during the day and find it easier to fall asleep at night.

One of the best ways to become more in synch with your circadian rhythm is to set a regular wake up time every day. If you wake up at the same time, your body will slowly start to adapt and will organise itself around this new consistent pace-maker.

Going to bed at the same time is great too, but it’s harder to keep consistent. You can always wake up at the same time (during the week and at the weekend), whatever time you went to bed the night before.

Planning your optimal sleep from the time you wake up

This is the really interesting part, which many people don’t realise. Your body plans your sleep backwards from the time it thinks you are going to wake up. Maybe read that one again in case you missed it!

What does that mean exactly? Let’s say you wake up at 7am every day. Your body will assume that you will wake up at 7am every day. If you go to bed at midnight, it will optimise your sleep to give you the best possible sleep within the 7 hours available. If you go to bed at 1am, it will give you the best possible 6 hours of sleep, and so on.

If you then compensate for a late night by staying in bed a little longer, let’s say until 9am, you will not be getting the best sleep in those extra two hours in the morning, because your body wasn’t anticipating them and wasn’t prepared for it.

But the biggest problem comes the following night. Let’s say it’s Sunday night and you have to be at work on Monday, so you wake up at 7am again. Your body thought you would be waking up at 9am – like you did before - and now gets a rude awakening when you drag yourself out of bed two hours earlier than expected. Those are two hours of precious, anticipated sleep that you have lost and will not get back.

These lost morning hours will make you feel unrefreshed, groggy, grumpy and like you haven’t had a chance to properly wake up – also known as a Monday feeling, jet lag or social jet lag.

As Richard Whatley (1987-1986) said: “Lose an hour in the morning and you will spend all day looking for it!” Well, he was right.

Are you ready to seize the morning and set yourself a new consistent wake up time for the next couple of weeks?

Do you do this already and does it help you?

What are your main challenges with waking up at the same time every day?

Please leave your comments below and get in touch with me if you have any questions: dotzacharias@gmail.com.

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