Early to bed and early to rise….

We have known the benefits of sleeping early and getting up early for a long time.

In fact this fact is embedded in our faith.

Waking up for Fajr prayer at dawn is a pillar of the Islamic faith. We are encouraged to sleep straight after Isha prayer.

A recent study affirms the benefits of an early sleep cycle.

A large study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that for late risers, sleeping an hour early and waking up an hour early, reduced depression risk by 23%.

The science behind

Sleep is made up of 4 stages, 3 are non-REM (non rapid eye movement sleep) and 1 is REM (rapid eye movement sleep).

During the early part of the night the cycles are predominantly non-REM.

Non-REM sleep is deeper and contributes to memory, insight and creativity.

The latter part of sleep is mainly REM sleep. It is a lighter sleep.

I’m sure you have seen people sleeping and their eyes, though closed, are constantly moving. This is the REM sleep.

REM sleep is important too. It makes up 25% of the sleep cycle. It is important for memory and learning.

Matthew Walker, leading sleep expert, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, as well as founder and director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science explains the science behind this.

Sleep is made up of cycles, during which the brain moves from non-REM sleep to REM sleep.

The cycles remain fairly consistent but the split between non-REM and REM changes.

Non-REM dominates the cycle in the early part of the night and then REM takes over as we move closer to daybreak.

If you sleep late and get up late, the sleep cycle may get disrupted. The REM and non REM sleep pattern may change, resulting in sleep that is not restorative to the body and mind.

Genetic programming?

Our genetic make up may influence our sleep timing preference.

The study by Daghlas et al found that there is a genetic predisposition which influences 12-42% of our sleep time preference.

There are 340 genetic variants, including variants in the “clock-gene”.

So yes, we may not have complete control over whether we are morning larks or night owls.

BUT, early risers do have a lower risk of depression, up to 23%.

Reason enough for us to try and change our sleep timings, even if we are inclined otherwise.

Why do people sleep late?

In the present day and time, more people are switching to later bedtimes.

In some, there may be reasons which prevent sleep and cause insomnia.

Sleep procrastinators

Others simply are sleep procrastinators. They delay going to bed because they may feel they have not had a ‘me’ time the whole day.

This may be so for both stay-at-home mums and superbusy career mums.

It has been seen that people who delay bedtimes are generally procrastinators in other areas of their life.

They would put off things that they need to do, especially things that they find tedious and boring, like housework, homework etc.

They may be on top of the game with things that they enjoy doing.

Delaying sleep time could be actual delay in getting into bed.

Others would get so engrossed in social media that they lose track of time.

Occasionally, people take time falling off to sleep. The anxiety makes them want to while away time.

Lack of self-regulation

Another group of people are those who are not terribly good at setting personal goals.

Typically these people are easily distracted and impulsive.

Self regulation is thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that guide individuals to set personal goals.

So some people don’t have a bedtime!

If you have a teenager you will know what I mean. Not painting everybody with same brush, but many youngsters suffer with goal setting, especially bedtimes.

Lockdown in the COVID era has made it worse.

The burden of depression

Depression affects nearly 5% of the population, although it can vary widely according to geographic location.

Factors like socioeconomic status, underlying diseases and traumatic life events all have a role to play.

The prevalence of depression is three times higher during the COVID pandemic according to a recent study.

Connection between bedtime and depression

The study that I want to focus on is from University of Colorado Boulder and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

They studied 84000 people.

We do know that there is usually a miminum sleep requirement of 7-8 hours.

The focus in this study is not the duration of sleep. The focus is on when you go to sleep.

They found the midpoint of the sleep cycle. Let’s say you go to sleep at midnight and wake up at 7am. Your midpoint of the sleep cycle is 3:30 am.

If you shift this 1 hour earlier, so you sleep at 11 pm and get up at 6 am, your risk of depression reduces by 23%.

If you shift this 2 hours earlier, so you sleep at 10 pm and get up at 5 am, your risk of depression reduces by 40%!

Can you keep shifting and seeing the benefit??

Probably not!!

What is implied is that getting more daylight hours has huge benefits on your mood.

Mood enhancers

Getting up early reduces a hormone called Melatonin, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain.

Melatonin increases in the evening after staying suppressed and makes you sleepy establishing a good sleep cycle.

Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin, a hormone known to enhance mood and make you feel good. It also has a role in sleeping, appetite and digestion, promoting overall health.

Other benefits of early bedtime

A study looked at the effects of late bedtimes and wake up times on 2200 Australian school children, aged 9-16 years.

They found that the early risers had less chances of being overwight.

They ate healthier food, had active lifestyles and had less chances of having eating disorders.

Adults who sleep late are more prone to develop obesity and diabetes, raised cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

How to reset your sleep clock

So I hope I have convinced you that late bedtimes are not good for you.

If you are a night owl and have always been, it will be extremely difiicult to teach your children good sleep habits.

Good sleep habits are essential for the well being of your children.

If you are thinking – how am I ever going to do that?

Don’t worry, I’m in the same boat!

Especially with summer holidays and lack of a routine.

But we have to try.

The best lessons we give our children is by personal example.

Alhamdulillah, my husband and I sleep and get up at the same time throughout the year, irrespective of holidays or weekends. Much to the annoyance of my children!

So if are thinking, I want to change my sleep pattern, here are some tips:

  • Stick to a routine – If you are used to sleeping late, chose a practical time 2-3 hours earlier than normal. Stick to this bedtime once you decide that this is going to work for you.
  • Power-down – The last hour before bedtime is super important, especially if you are resetting your clock. Break it up into say 20 minute sections. First 20 minute, finish off all things that need doing. Second 20 minutes is for sleep hygiene, a hot bath works for some. The last 20 minutes for dua and dhikr before you sleep.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. I understand that sleeping at the same time is not completely under your control. If you wake up every day at the same time it will adjust your circadian rhythm, your internal clock. Your body needs a fixed number of hours of sleep. You will start sleeping early by default.
  • Skip long naps – Avoid taking long naps in the daytime. Short power naps are great to recharge.
  • No devices – We know that exposure to light prior to bedtime disturbs our sleep cycle. Burgess et al state in a study published in 2014 “reducing household light exposure before bedtime is a simple and effective step towards reducing circadian misalignment.” This includes the light from our devices.
Rochelle Zozulla, PhD, a sleep specialist quotes in Every day Health “Light suppresses the production of melatonin, which is directly involved in sleep initiation.”

  • Bright light therapy – This involves exposure to bright light under controlled conditions in the morning. The light brings about a positive balance between the hormones Serotonin and Melatonin. This helps in improved mood and better sleep pattern. Ideally, this should be under supervision of a specialist.
If you want to do it yourself, let the sun in as soon as you get up, or go out into the garden for some fresh air.

Make the change and be patient

Take the first step and change your sleep pattern.

You will notice significant changes in your mood and health in sha Allah.

Be patient, it’s not a quick fix.

Be consistent, It’s worth it.