Maintaining a consistent daily routine may be linked to better sleep, according to a small new study.
Young adults who went to work and ate dinner around the same time every day typically slept better and woke up fewer times during the night. They also fell asleep more quickly at bedtime.
Yet the exact time people performed daily activities - say, eating dinner at 6 p.m. versus 8 p.m. - had little bearing on how well they slept.
"For the majority of sleep outcomes, we found that completing activities at a regular time better predicted sleep outcomes than the actual time of day that activities were completed," Natalie Dautovich, a psychologist at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said. She led the study, which was published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B.
"For example, people reported better sleep quality and fewer awakenings at night when they were consistent in the time they first went outside," Dautovich told Reuters Health in an email.
On the other hand, for older adults, inconsistent daily schedules were sometimes linked with better sleep, the researchers found.
For instance, older people whose dinnertime varied tended to sleep longer at night. And those who started home activities or began work at different times each day fell asleep more quickly.
The study included 50 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 and another 50 between 60 and 95. Participants kept a diary of when they performed regular activities and how well they slept at night for two weeks.
Instead of opening the door to new recommendations or sleep treatments, the authors said the study best serves to create questions for future research.
Those questions include whether older adults who have more variation in their daily schedules are already healthier and more socially active - or whether it's the variety in one's everyday schedule that provides the activity and stimulation that help ensure good sleep, according to Dautovich.
"We know that good sleep at night is dependent in part on our drive to sleep, which is based on how active and alert we are during the day," she said.
For that reason, being out and about during the day remains one of the best ways to maximize the chances of a solid night of shut-eye.
"Greater activity and levels of alertness during the day increase our need to sleep at night," Dautovich said.