You likely know getting enough sleep has several benefits for your overall health. And while the quantity of sleep certainly matters, it’s not just the number of hours you sleep that counts toward those health benefits. Rather, a consistent sleep schedule — that is, falling asleep and waking at the same time each day — plays a crucial role in how beneficial your hours of sleep actually are.
New research has found that no matter how many total hours you sleep each night, health issues can still become a problem when there’s too much variability in your sleep schedule. Sleep researchers now believe that maintaining regular sleep habits is just as important, if not more important, than sleeping an adequate number of hours nightly.
What does going to bed and waking at the same time each day do for your health? Read on to learn about five of the immediate health benefits you’ll enjoy when you practice a consistent sleep schedule.
1. You’ll Get Higher Quality Sleep
If you tend to toss and turn the night away, an inconsistent sleep schedule may be the culprit. That’s because your body needs to develop consistent timing for when it will ramp up its production of sleep hormones.
If you don’t go to bed and wake at roughly the same time daily, the timing of that hormone production will be all over the place. As a result, you’ll have trouble feeling tired, and when you don’t actually feel tired, it’s pretty tough to get good quality sleep. Practicing a regular sleep schedule can change that.
Interestingly, what you wear to bed can also affect sleep quality. If you’re used to wearing heavy or restrictive PJs and you tend to get poor sleep, it’s probably time to change up the type of pajamas you wear.
Silk, which is known for being remarkably soft, comfortable, and breathable, is one of the best materials you can possibly sleep in. According to Quince, not only do silk pajamas help your body regulate its temperature (which is crucial for good sleep quality), but they also allow for unrestricted movement during the night, which can help you sleep more peacefully.
2. You’ll Fall Asleep Easier
When you wake, morning light exposure triggers your body to release cortisol, which makes you feel more alert. As the day moves along, your circadian rhythm causes your cortisol levels to decrease. About 12 to 14 hours after that morning surge of cortisol, your circadian rhythm triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy.
Because of the way your circadian rhythm works, it makes it very tough to fall asleep on demand. Your body will struggle to fall asleep when you head to bed earlier than normal because your circadian rhythm hasn’t made you feel tired yet. The same is true if you attempt to wake before your circadian rhythm has prepared your body to become more alert.
When you go to bed and wake at the same time daily, your body learns when it’s time to get sleepy and when it’s time to grow more alert. That consistent sleep schedule allows your body to develop a natural sleep-wake pattern that makes it much easier for you to fall asleep at roughly the same time each night.
3. Your Mood and Stress Levels Will Improve
How do you feel after a night of sub-par sleep? Irritable? Stressed out? Sad? That’s because poor sleep has a negative effect on your brain’s limbic system, a part of the brain that helps regulate emotions and the fight or flight response. Sleep researchers have found that lack of sleep can increase limbic system activity by up to 60%, which is bad news for healthy emotional regulation.
Researchers have also found that people who routinely get poor sleep are more likely to develop a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. They’re also more likely to suffer from chronic stress. One study of over 10,000 adults found that those who were most sleep-deprived were up to five times more likely to develop a major depressive disorder.
When you have a consistent sleep schedule, you naturally sleep better because you allow your body’s built-in circadian rhythm to do its job the way it’s designed to. When you improve sleep quality, your limbic system calms down and allows your brain to regulate your emotions and stress levels the way it should.
4. You’ll Strengthen Your Immune System
Consistent, high-quality sleep is crucial for healthy immune function. Good-quality sleep helps boost your body’s production of T-cells and antibodies, which help you fight off infections.
Consistent sleep also increases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells — white blood cells that kill virus-infected cells — by up to 72%. Furthermore, consistent sleep helps regulate your immune system’s production of inflammatory cytokines. These proteins play a central role in the development of serious health issues like metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease.
5. You’ll Improve Your Memory and Brain Health
While you sleep, your brain essentially cleans itself. It consolidates memories, prunes and creates neural synapses, and flushes itself of toxins that contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
Researchers have found that one of those toxins, a metabolite called beta-amyloid, accumulates in the brain during the day. The chronic buildup of this particular toxin is strongly associated with the development and progression of dementia and Alzheimers.
While your brain’s cleaning process happens on a very small scale during the day, it’s only during sleep that the process really ramps up and your brain clears itself of toxic cellular waste. When you get consistent, high-quality sleep, the cleaning process occurs every night, thereby improving not just your memory but your overall brain health.
While a consistent sleep schedule looks different for everyone, the benefits are the same no matter who you are. If you’re looking to get more high-quality sleep while boosting your mental, emotional, and cognitive health, developing and practicing a regular sleep schedule will serve you well.