How To Find Your Ideal Wake-Up Time + Stick To It For More Energy
Reading stories about how athletes and CEOs start their day might lead you to believe that waking up super early is the key to success. But is that really true? Here's what sleep experts have to say about how to find—and stick to—the best wake-up time.
How the circadian rhythm works.
Before diving into the best time to set your alarm, we need to talk about your body's master internal clock, the circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm plays a huge role in when you feel tired and awake. It controls when stimulating hormones like cortisol and relaxing ones like melatonin are released throughout the day. The circadian rhythm is heavily affected by light, which is why we find it difficult to fall asleep when traveling to a new time zone or working night shifts.
A healthy circadian rhythm will reset every 24 hours or so, but everybody's is a little different. This is part of the reason some people are naturally night owls, while others prefer to wake up early in the morning. If you want to improve your sleep, working with your natural circadian rhythm is key. And that means keeping your sleep-wake schedule as regular as possible.
"Getting up at the same time every day is sort of like the superhero of sleep advice. It reinforces your natural circadian rhythm," Robin MacFarlane, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, says. "It may not always feel good to get up at the same time every day, but over the long run, it's going to leave you feeling as refreshed as you can be."
Ideally, your wake-up time shouldn't change by more than an hour on any given day—yes, even on the weekends (to combat a phenomenon known as social jetlag)!
How much sleep do you need?
Just as we all have unique circadian rhythms, we also have different sleep needs. While eight hours is usually considered the gold standard for sleep, some people will need more or less than that.
Sleep need actually looks more like a bell curve, explains integrative medicine physician Dana Cohen, M.D., and it's thought to be dictated by a mix of genetics1, seasonal shifts, health changes, and age. These are the general guidelines for how much sleep different age groups should get every day—but again, it's personal:
- Newborns, 0–3 months: not stated (but the National Sleep Foundation2 recommends 14 to 17 hours, including naps)
- Infants, 4–11 months: 12–16 hours (including naps)
- Toddlers, 1–2 years: 11–14 hours (including naps)
- Preschoolers, 3–5 years: 10–13 hours (including naps)
- Children, 6–12 years: 9–12 hours
- Teenagers, 13–17 years: 8–10 hours
- Adults, 18+: 7 or more hours
Waking up feeling energized—ideally, without an alarm clock—is the best indication that you got enough sleep, says Cohen. And look out for the following signs that you're getting too much or too little rest each night.
Effects of not getting enough sleep:
Effects of getting too much sleep:
What's the best time to wake up?
To find your ideal wake-up time, you'll need to consider your personal sleep needs and circadian rhythm. This means that there's no magic number that will be a fit for everyone.
Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, provides the following guidance on how to find a time that is best for you:
- Consider the time that you need to be awake, and set a recurring alarm for that time. If you don't have schedule constraints, pick a time that fits your lifestyle.
- Working your way backward, figure out what time you should be going to bed every night to clock the number of hours of sleep your body needs.
- Stick with this new schedule for a couple of weeks. Wake up at the same time every day without pressing the snooze button.
- Track how it's going with a sleep diary. Take note of what time you start getting sleepy at night. That's a good indication of your sleep needs.
- Tweak your sleep-wake schedule until you fall into a routine that feels manageable. Eventually, with enough consistency, your body should get used to this new wake-up time and you might not even need an alarm to get up.
How to maintain a good sleep schedule.
Clearly, when it comes to wake-up times, consistency is key. These tips will help you stick with your new sleep schedule and feel great doing it:
Set an alarm—and don't press snooze.
As you get acclimated to your new wake-up time, you'll need to set an alarm for a while. Once it goes off, all that's left to do is get up! "Just do it," says Cohen. "Get out of bed when the alarm goes off. Do not hit snooze." If you tend to feel groggy upon waking, these tips can help put a pep in your step a little faster.
Keep it consistent (even when you so don't want to).
Getting up at a new time can feel uncomfortable to start, but Kennedy emphasizes that it will get easier. "It takes a couple of weeks to get into the habit, and it won't necessarily feel great when you first start. Being consistent helps your body to adjust faster," she says.
Limit alcohol and caffeine.
Be diligent about bedtime.
If you want to wake up at the same time every morning, you also need to go to bed around the same time every night. One way to stay accountable to your bedtime is to set a bedtime alarm to go off around an hour before you'd like to be asleep. This can be your cue to start winding down, turning off your tech, and getting ready for bed.
Keep up with good sleep hygiene.
High-quality, deep sleep doesn't just happen. You need to set it up with good sleep hygiene. Be sure to keep a cool, dark, and quiet sleeping environment and stay off electronics close to bedtime. Ending your day with a relaxing bath, journaling session, or sleep supplement will also help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, making it easier to wake up in the morning.*
There is no ideal wake-up time that will work for everybody. The most important thing is keeping your wake-up time (and bedtime!) consistent. Once you do, falling asleep at night and waking up with energy in the morning should become more second nature.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.