Can’t nod off? Here’s how to find your ideal ‘sleep window’

Understanding your ideal ‘sleep window’ could be the key to a better and more restful night, according to these experts. 

If there’s one thing we hope to master in 2023, it’s the art of a restful night’s sleep. Evidence suggests that having a stable, consistent sleep schedule – going to bed each night and getting up each morning at the same time – is effective at producing satisfying, efficient sleep. And let’s face it, it’s what we all need right now after what felt like the longest January on record.

So while we know that diet, exercise, alcohol intake and hydration all impact how well and often we sleep, learning to understand our ideal ‘sleep window’ could also be the key to feeling fresher and more alert in the mornings, according to the experts at Mattress Online.

Put simply, your sleep window is the time you allocate for sleep each night. Depending on whether you’re an early riser, night owl or something in between, this optimum sleep schedule will look different.

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So how do you go about finding your sleep window when there’s no one correct answer? Start by noting when your brain wants and expects sleep. At 9.30pm, do you still feel wired, or do your energy levels feel like they’re starting to wane? By 11pm, do you find yourself barely able to keep your eyes open or are you able to squeeze in one more episode of Happy Valley before you put your head down?

Can finding your ideal ‘sleep window’ help you sleep better?

While five hours sleep is the very least amount you need to stay healthy, according to science, making sure you’re in tune with your body and its natural cues is the easiest (and best) way to figure out exactly what works for you.

According to sleep tracking app Sleepio, the easiest way to do this is by keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Soon after you wake up, jot down when you went to bed, how long roughly it took you to fall asleep, how long you were awake during the night and when you woke for the final time. Then calculate your average total sleep per night, and add 45 minutes to create your ideal allocation of time for sleep each night.

“If you are able to fall asleep in your sleep window, you are much more likely to have good sleep, but there are other impacting factors such as stress and alcohol which will counter this,” explains Chloe Angus, wellbeing manager at health charity Cavendish Care. “If you develop a good sleep routine and regularly fall asleep in your optimal window, you create a good brain habit for sleep which has a positive impact on your overall sleep status.”

How to find your ideal sleep window

Angus advises starting by experimenting with a bedtime between 9.30pm and 11.30pm, as most people’s optimal sleep window starts within this time. “Use the standard eight hours of sleep a night as a benchmark,” she explains. “For example, if you need to get up at 6am, you ideally want to be asleep at 10pm. But be prepared to make adjustments to this.”

And of course, we know from the rhythms of our body that, for many, it is not simply the case that if we go to bed at 10pm, we fall asleep straight away. Because of this, it’s helpful to prepare relaxing pre-sleep routines and habits that help you avoid anything that can impact your sleepiness. From low lights and reading to a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea, whatever puts you at ease and makes it as easy to drift off as possible is best.

Finally, set a daily schedule that ensures you’re setting yourself up for the best possible night of rest. Limit your caffeine intake, ideally drinking nothing that contains caffeine after midday, and finish eating any food at least two to three hours before you want to fall asleep.

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And once you’ve discovered your ideal sleep window, the key is to stick to it. While it probably won’t be possible to implement it every night, even four days a week is likely to make a positive difference, according to Sleepio.

Because by taking a little time and consideration in the lead-up to bedtime, and avoiding some of the modern pitfalls of busy modern living, we can better understand our body’s daily requirements and what it is trying to tell us. This will only help to bring us closer to our natural sleep patterns and, ultimately, a more soothing and restorative night’s sleep.

Images: Getty

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