A reader asks:
For all of my adult life (I’m 40), my sleep/wake schedule has been very inconsistent, mostly because I sleep late when I can do so and don’t get into bed until I feel very sleepy. I recognize that regulating my bedtime and wake times would probably have some benefits, such as increased energy at predictable times and easier wakenings. Am I correct in this assumption–and if I am, how does a person go about “deciding” when to go to bed and wake, and ensuring that they stay regular in this.
There is a hint in what you write that you are inherently a “late chronotype”–that if you did not have morning obligations, you would go to sleep late and wake up late. To find out whether that is your natural physiological tendency, take the Automated Morningness-Eveningess Questionnaire (AutoMEQ) on www.cet.org. The AutoMEQ tells you when your natural bedtime would be according to your internal circadian clock. You are correct in guessing that regular bedtime and rise time is the healthy strategy, but you are incorrect in assuming that simply making a decision about an earlier bedtime and rise time will do the trick. To be effective–to fall asleep when you are sleepy–you need to time your sleep to synchronize with your internal circadian clock. If your clock is running late, you may want to adjust it earlier with morning light therapy, and the AutoMEQ will advise you how.