From a young age we are not taught to go to bed when we are tired, instead we are taught to go to bed at our “bedtime”. When we are young, these bedtimes are often dictated by our parents, and as we get older we create them for ourselves. Our bedtime often fluctuates as our lives do--we have early meetings all week so we move up our bedtime from 11pm to 9pm. Or we start sharing a bed with a partner and change our sleep schedule to fit better with theirs. But this is not how our bodies are meant to sleep.
Our natural circadian rhythm is cuing us in on when it is a good time to sleep, but we are never taught what that is and how to look for it. Circadian rhythm is our body’s way of telling us when we should be awake and when we should be asleep based on the natural dark-light cycle. So when it is light outside, we want to be awake, and when it is dark this cues our body that it is time to go to sleep. This idea of “bedtimes'' goes against that. When we are told to go to bed at a specific time, we are ignoring our natural circadian rhythm and forcing ourselves to get in bed at a time that may not be right for what we need.
We have probably all experienced this one evening or another when we were out with friends and fought the sleepiness taking over our body and mind to stay out later. Or on the flip side, getting in bed when our body wasn’t tired because it was “bedtime”. For many people it may make sense to scrap the idea of “bedtime” for adults. You should go to bed when you feel tired because this is your body telling you it’s time for bed. Your body saying--”hey, I’m sleepy, let’s get in bed now”. And maybe your natural bedtime is the same as the “bedtime” you’ve created for yourself, but this is an amazing opportunity to experiment with that and see what feels good for you.
Some of the benefits of getting in bed when your circadian rhythm is signaling it’s time to sleep are that it is easier to fall asleep, you go through all the stages of sleep, and wake up feeling refreshed and well rested. Additionally, getting sleep when your body is tired leads to better moods, more productivity throughout the day, and improved cognitive functioning.
To get in bed when you feel tired it is key to have completed everything in your evening routine, so that when you begin to feel tired, you don’t have to do the dishes or pack your child’s lunch for tomorrow. Do everything you need to do for the evening and the next day early in the evening. This includes brushing your teeth and whatever else is part of your evening bedtime routine. This way, as soon as the sleepiness overcomes you, you can hop right in bed.