This week I’m breaking down the 10 Principles of Health as we have defined them at RxFIT.
- Health is synonymous with fitness.
- Optimal health is achieved by athletes who prioritize sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindset, and connection with others.
- Go to bed early.
- Strive for more plants, not supplements.
- Eat less to lose weight. Eat more to gain weight.
- Train to improve performance, not aesthetics.
- Constantly vary workouts with functional movements and high intensity.
- Dedicate time to think, read, and write without distractions.
- Loving relationships improve longevity.
- Doctors are experts in medicine. Coaches are experts in health.
Maybe you’ve heard this before: Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight.
Regarding this adage, Dr. Matthew Walker (Director of Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley) says that your sleep quality changes as the night wears on.
“The time of night when you sleep makes a significant difference in terms of the structure and quality of your sleep,” he explains. Your sleep is composed of a series of 90-minute cycles during which your brain moves from deep, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep to REM sleep. “That 90-minute cycle is fairly stable throughout the night,” Walker explains. “But the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep changes.”
Non-REM vs. REM Sleep
Think of non-REM and REM sleep like this:
Non-REM sleep is where your body recovers (muscles, tissues, joints) and happens during the early part of the night.
REM sleep is where your mind recovers (memories are processed, knowledge is organized, etc.) and happens during the later part of the night.
What does this have to do with the perfect bedtime?
The shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night regardless of when you go to bed, but Walker’s recent studies have shown that the body prioritizes non-REM over REM sleep when it is deprived. In other words, if you go to sleep later than normal, your body will cut short REM sleep leaving you groggy and blunt-minded the next day.
So What Time Should I Go to Bed?
When it comes to bedtime, he says there’s a window of several hours—roughly between 8 PM and 12 AM—during which your brain and body have the opportunity to get all the non-REM and REM shuteye they need to function optimally. The optimal time to go to bed actually depends on your age
Small children tend to be most tired early in the evening, while late-high school, college-aged adults may be more comfortable going to bed around or after midnight. Walker says that beginning sometime in your late twenties, however, your best bedtime will likely creep earlier and earlier as you age.
Your morning alarm clock isn’t the thing to blame for your sleep deprivation. Instead, it’s your habit of going to bed too late.
If you want to figure out the exact best bedtime for you, experiment going to bed at different times with one week intervals (test a bedtime for a week, and then change it the next week). Use sleepiness as your barometer. Just make sure you’re rising at roughly the same time every morning—weekdays and weekends.
Nothing happens to your circadian rhythm if you sleep an extra hour on the weekends, but anything more than an hour will throw if off (i.e. if you’re getting up at 6:30 a.m. during the workweek and sleeping until 10:00 a.m. on weekends).
But my advice is to always keep health simple. Go to bed earlier than you are right now.
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