Updated: May 17
Question #1: How long will you sleep?
Each day, our brain and body accumulate a need for a certain amount of sleep.
This isn’t the same for everyone, but the vast majority of healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
To figure out how many hours you personally need, consider the routine you tend to settle into after a few days of vacation.
How many hours do you usually get when you don’t bother to set an alarm clock—and when you wake feeling rested?
That’s the number of hours you’ll want to shoot for every night.
Question #2: What time will you (consistently) wake up?
If you want to reprogram your sleep pattern, this question is crucial.
That’s because the strongest signal to your biological clock is when you wake.
When your get-up time is consistent, your internal clock will recognize that as the time to start producing circadian alerting signals.
There’s another good reason to start with your get-up time: You have less control over it.
Based on your daily responsibilities, there’s probably a limited range of possible rise times. Once you choose one, you can then work backward to figure out your bedtime (Question #3).
In selecting the time you wake up, it’s critical that you consider your own natural tendencies.
If you’re a “night owl,” a 5 a.m. run might not be the best plan. On the flip side, if you enjoy mornings, getting up for a workout might be a great start to your day.
In any case, don’t try to make a drastic shift all at once.
Start with your current usual rise time—that is, the time you actually get up. Then move it a half-hour earlier every three to four days. This approach makes it less likely that you’ll have trouble falling asleep at your new bedtime.
Once you’re awake, expose yourself to light right away.
If you tend to feel sluggish in the morning, combine the light exposure with some movement. It doesn’t need to be a full workout: Walk your dog around the block or just do some simple chores.
Question #3: What time will you go to bed?
After you’ve established your planned wake-up time, think about how much sleep you need.
Take the number of hours of sleep you need to feel fully rested, and count backward from your planned rise time.
Let’s say you plan to wake at 5 a.m., and you know you need 7.5 hours to feel rested. That means your bedtime should be 9:30 p.m.