You get better sleep before midnight… Sleep fact or sleep fiction?

22nd April 2014 by Peter Hames

Ask the Sleepio Expert How to sleep better Sleep science Sleepio experts

Sleep fact or sleep fiction

Photo credit: Adam Levine via Flickr

There are lots of myths about sleep out there from the powers of warm milk to how the nightmare-inducing properties of cheese. So we’re putting our favourites to our Sleepio experts to find out what’s sleep fact or sleep fiction. (I know… I feel we need a jingle too.)

First off, my mum used to say that every hour spent asleep before midnight was worth two hours spent asleep after midnight. This sounded like a ploy to get me to go to bed earlier but over to Dr Simon Kyle to find out more:

Well, there’s something in this … but it’s not actually about going to bed before midnight, but how our sleep changes throughout the night!

It’s actually during the first third of the night that we experience the deepest part of our sleep. We move into deep sleep more rapidly and it’s the phase of sleep during which we’re least likely to be disturbed and wake up.

This deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the most restorative part of our sleep. We experience low levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as reductions in sympathetic nervous system activity – this is the stimulating activity associated with our ‘fight-or-flight’ responses. We also experience increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is associated with ‘rest and digest’ activity. So, you can see why it does us so much good!

SWS is also associated with memory consolidation, our learning ability and our overall alertness the next day. The emerging picture from experimental research is that SWS is involved in critical aspects of cognition and daytime functioning, and that it assists in keeping our brain and body in optimal health.

If you wake feeling unrefreshed, it’s likely that your deep or slow wave sleep is suffering in some way. Avoid taking naps because deep sleep is related to the amount of time spent awake. For example, if you take a long nap in the late afternoon, the time spent in SWS that night is reduced. Take steps to reduce your pre-sleep stress too as that can also reduce your SWS once you’re asleep.

So sleep fact or sleep fiction?

Fiction – but it’s based on fact because it’s the first third of your sleep that is the most restorative.

Thank you, Dr Simon!

Tell us about your sleep myth and we’ll tell you whether it’s sleep fact or sleep fiction!


  1. Kerry Williams says:

    How about the psychological aspect of sleep. If you get of to sleep after midnight you are basically sleeping within the same calendar day so you may believe you have not rested adequately.

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