How Shifting Your Bedtime Earlier Can Do Wonders For Your Wellness

Sleep is one of the most transformative tools available to improve your health and wellness. According to research published in the medical journal Royal Society Open Science, good sleep habits are even linked to how attractive we appear to others. Aside from avoiding offensive comments about how tired you look, getting more sleep can improve your productivity during the day. A recent study in Sleep Health revealed that workers in Japan with longer sleep patterns were more productive than their sleep-deprived coworkers. Those are just a few of the reasons we consistently see recommendations from health professionals to place more emphasis on our sleep routines.

A recent survey on bedtime habits conducted by U.S. News & World Report uncovered that 36% of Americans report that they suffer from poor sleep, a trend that troubles somnologists. "Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies," sleep specialist Dr. Michael Twery explained to News in Health. Now, let's take a closer look at how improving your sleep hygiene can benefit your well-being.

Going to bed earlier is linked to good heart health

Heart disease is one of the deadliest ailments in the United States, and the CDC reports that one in every five deaths is due to cardiovascular illness. Most people are aware of the risks of heart disease in relation to dietary and lifestyle choices, but the impact of sleep on heart health isn't as widely recognized. In recent years, however, a clear pattern has emerged suggesting that sleep quality is directly associated with heart health.

Researchers have noted the importance of an earlier bedtime on heart health. Participants in a large-scale study conducted by The European Heart Journal displayed a decreased risk of heart disease when their reported bedtimes fell between 10 p.m. and 10:59 p.m. versus those who dozed off at later hours of the night. "The circadian clock has a much stronger influence on overall health than we thought," relayed David Plans, one of the study's authors, to The Washington Post.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that can negatively impact heart health, and poor sleep is responsible for the heightened production of cortisol in your body. A study published by The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that several cardiovascular illnesses may develop from heightened cortisol production related to unhealthy sleep habits.

Sleeping earlier can influence good eating habits

A common problem associated with later bedtimes is troubling evening cravings. One hormone responsible for gnawing feelings of hunger, ghrelin, is suppressed earlier in the day and can reach a fever pitch in the evening. The Journal of Sleep Research discovered a concerning pattern between sleep deprivation and ghrelin – just one evening of lost sleep was found responsible for raised ghrelin levels and increased hunger pangs in male participants. A similar study by the International Journal of Endocrinology observed that female participants subject to sleep deprivation also had higher levels of ghrelin. Even more concerning, the scientific journal Nutrients found that late-night snacking was associated with cardiovascular health risks such as plaque buildup in the arteries.

Further research on nighttime eating patterns by BMC Public Health showed that individuals who ate later in the evening were at heightened risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome. "Research has shown that eating according to your body clock and natural circadian rhythms helps reduce fat storage. Eating earlier in the day when your body is much better at processing food will help you control your weight," dietitian Elizabeth Ward stated to Forbes Health.

Although the information is still developing regarding the connection between evening mealtimes and disease, clinicians have proposed some solutions. One way to circumvent the cycle of late-night snacking is to hit the hay earlier. A study published in The Journal of Biological Rhythms indicated that melatonin levels are at their highest around bedtime and early dawn, and experts recommend scheduling meals outside of those hours.

An earlier bedtime could lighten your mood

Mood disorders, like depression, can also be negatively affected by restricted sleep. The journal Sleep Disorders found a relationship between poor sleep and the presentation of depressive symptoms in college students. "We may suggest that sleep timing, sleep-onset latency, and sleep quality can be an independent risk factor for depressive symptoms," wrote the study's authors. Therefore, an early bedtime isn't the only factor that potentially affects your mood – sleep latency, or the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep after lying down for the night, also plays a part. A more extensive analysis by researchers from BMC Psychiatry established similar findings on the correlation between sleep deprivation and depression.

Late diurnal preference isn't a common phrase to most of us, but night owls should be familiar with its concept. The term refers to starting your day at a later time than is typical, such as afternoon or evening. Unfortunately for late risers, the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that morning people experienced lower odds of depression and anxiety than participants who preferred evening activities.

Getting a good night's sleep might make you nicer

Those of us who have experienced late-night study sessions are aware of the mood-altering effects of a bad night's sleep, like poor concentration or waves of anxiety. A study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience confirmed the correlation between sleep disturbances and anxiety, finding that a lack of sleep is associated with the condition.

But anger is a newly discovered trait that results from sleep deprivation and could be mitigated by improved sleep habits. While it's normal to be mildly irritated sometimes, many of us have had days when we felt quicker to anger from trivial upsets like traffic jams. It turns out that one of the reasons we may experience increased aggravation could be sleep deprivation. The Cureus Journal of Medical Science released an investigation showing that lack of sleep across study participants was strongly associated with feelings of anger, amongst other negative emotions.

Interestingly, researchers have also concluded that sleep deprivation causes people to become less altruistic. The journal PLOS Biology featured a report revealing that the number of charitable donations across the United States dropped as Americans lost sleep due to daylight saving time.

How to improve your sleep hygiene

Thankfully, experts have developed practical ways to improve your quality of rest, which can help you establish an earlier bedtime. First, identify how you like to sleep. Some of us prefer one continuous stretch of sleep at night, whereas others are content to wake intermittently and return to bed. "Your body really does like routine. Find what works for you, and keep that routine going," clinical sleep psychologist Dorothy Bruck explained to The Atlantic.

The biggest offenders affecting your ability to sleep well include caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Research published by Sleep Medicine Reviews outlines these three substances as detrimental to sleep. According to the study, former nicotine and alcohol users may even notice difficulty sleeping well after quitting. To instill healthier habits, researchers from the British Journal of General Practice suggest starting simply and staying consistent with your plan.

Regular exercise enhances your ability to fall asleep and can improve sleep quality, leading to more restorative sleep cycles. A study from PeerJ found that exercise promotes better sleep, with negligible reports of side effects. "Sleep is recovery. If you don't have anything to recover from, your sleep isn't going to be that great," clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Breus noted to The New York Times.

Altering your sleep regimen can seem trying after a lifetime of poor sleep habits, but change is possible. You can develop a healthier sleep cycle in line with your body's circadian rhythms by taking small steps toward improving your evening and morning routines.