When is the Best Time to Wake Up? The Ideal Waking Time, According to Experts
Categories: Sleep Night 
Published: February 26, 2024
Author: Caroline Kee
Today
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When Is The Best Time To Wake Up? The Ideal Waking Time, According To Experts

We all know that sleep is important for our mental and physical health. But does it matter when you wake up Is waking up earlier always better?

Despite the endless stream of wellness content about morning routines — from celebrities sharing their daily habits to influencers posting videos of themselves waking up early, making breakfast and doing a 10-step skincare regimen — the reality is many of us wake up and want to hit the snooze button.

The time you wake up is important, and depending on your schedule, waking up early has its perks. So, what is the best time to wake up in the morning? We spoke to experts about how to calculate your ideal waking time, whether waking up earlier is better and how to safely shift your sleep schedule.

What is the Best Time to Wake Up?

There's no one answer. "The best time to wake up depends on what works best for you and your lifestyle," Shelby Harris, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep medicine and the director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, tells TODAY.com.

Work, school, parenting or pets can all affect our sleep schedule and waking time. What's more, everyone has different sleep personalities. There are morning larks, night owls and every bird in between.

The best time to wake up is the time that allows you to sleep enough hours, remain consistent and get exposed to some sunlight in the morning, Dr. Daniel Barone, neurologist and associate director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, tells TODAY.com.

A person's sleep needs will vary depending their age, lifestyle and other health factors, but the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night, says Barone.

Some people may sleep more than that, and many people routinely sleep less, but according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, healthy adults need to get at least seven hours of sleep on a regular basis for optimal health.

Your ideal wake up time should be no less than seven hours after your bedtime, and allow you to get as much rest as you need while still suiting your schedule, Harris notes.

“The No. 1 thing is getting seven to nine hours per night," says Barone.

It's also important to choose a time that is sustainable so you can remain consistent every day. "Your wakeup time should not be changing ... unless of course you shift work (schedules) on a weekday or weekend basis," says Barone.

Finally, it's important to wake up when there's light outside. "The ideal thing is to wake up and get sunlight on you," says Barone.

How Does the Body Decide to Wake up?

The science behind waking up comes down to a combination of factors and environmental cues, but the most important is sunlight.

"Our (bodies wake) up because of (their) internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which responds to exposure to light, especially in the morning," says Harris.

The bright morning light lets the eyes and brain know it's time to be awake. In response, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which helps us wake up naturally, says Harris.

In response to darkness, the brain produces another hormone called melatonin, which helps us fall asleep and helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, says Barone. Sunlight also triggers the brain to shut off production of melatonin in the morning.

When the body decides to wake up is also habitual, says Barone. "If your habit is waking up at the same time every day, it makes it easier for the brain to get used to that," he adds.

Your waking time will also depend on how much sleep you got the night before and your bedtime, says Barone. If you typically wake up at 6 a.m. every day, your body may want to sleep in a bit longer if you were to stay up until 2 a.m.

Is it Better to Wake Up Early?

“Waking up early is generally recommended to align your body’s circadian rhythm with the natural light-dark cycle," says Harris.

What’s considered early will depend on the individual and their sleep cycle — for some it may be 5 a.m. and others, 8 a.m.

The idea is that the earlier a person wakes up, the more morning light they're exposed to, which makes it easier for the brain and body to wake up. Early morning light exposure can also make it easier to fall asleep at night because it helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm, says Harris.

However, waking up early is not necessarily better for everyone, especially those who go to bed late and need the extra hours. Giving up sleep for a morning workout, for example, may do more harm than good despite the benefits of exercise, TODAY.com previously reported.

The bottom line: Getting enough sleep, and good quality sleep, is more important than waking up at an early time, says Barone.

Is Snoozing Bad for You?

When it comes to waking up, Barone warns against making this common mistake: falling into the snooze trap.

If you decide to wake up early, try to actually get your body up at that time, the experts emphasize. Setting an early alarm only to wake up and hit the snooze button to lie in bed for the next an hour is not ideal, says Barone, and could make you feel worse during the day.

"Snoozing releases serotonin, and it's a very pleasant sensation to go back to sleep," says Barone. "The problem is that the process of waking up is a complicated series of neurotransmitters (being) released in the brain. ... Waking up and going back to sleep is interrupting that," he adds. This can confuse the brain and cause people to feel more tired and foggy.

Some studies have shown that snoozing for up to 30 minutes may help people transition from a deeper to a lighter stage of sleep, TODAY.com previously reported.

However, the experts recommend letting yourself sleep longer rather than waking up early to snooze. "It's better to just wake up at the latest time you can," says Barone.

Is it Healthy to Sleep in on Weekends?

It's common for people to wake up earlier on the weekdays and sleep in on the weekends. While getting extra shuteye probably won't hurt, the experts recommend people try to keep their waking time as consistent as possible.

"It’s better for your body if you wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends, to help keep your circadian rhythm in balance," says Harris.

It's also common to not sleep enough during the week and oversleep on the weekends in an effort to catch up. "You would think that seems OK, but you're still behind when it comes to sleep deprivation," says Barone.

Sleep debt from the week can accumulate and become harder to pay off. "Every night that you're getting six hours when you need eight, you're two hours behind," says Barone. After five nights, that's ten hours. "You're not going to make up for that from just one or two nights of extra sleep," Barone adds.

Over time, this can result in sleep deprivation, which has a number of short- and long-term health consequences.

"It's better to just be as consistent as you can. If you want to sleep in an hour or so on the weekends, that's OK, but anything more than may signal there's a problem," says Barone.

How can People Wake Up Earlier?

In order to safely change when you wake up without losing sleep, Harris suggests the following steps:

Gradually shift your bedtime and waking time by 15 to 30 minutes each day until you reach your goal

Keep a consistent waking time and bedtime

Go out of your way to get sunlight in the morning

Don't force it — try to adjust your wake-up time based on what works best for you and your morning routine, says Harris.

If you're unable get out in the sunlight or it's still dark when you wake up, try using artificial sources of light in the morning, such as sunrise alarm clocks or light therapy lamps.

The experts encourage limiting screen time — from televisions, computers and phones — before bedtime. Exposure to bright artificial light in the evening can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.

“The ideal circumstance is we shut off any screens 30 to 60 minutes before bed to allow melatonin to be produced,” says Barone.

If you have trouble falling asleep, wake up throughout the night or wake up feeling tired despite sleeping enough hours, these could be signs of an underlying problem or sleep disorder, the experts note. Always talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

"If you do all the right things, but your sleep is still disrupted or low quality, you may want to consider getting a sleep study," says Barone.


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