Fixing Your Sleep Schedule: Here’s What You Need To Know
You can fix your sleeping schedule by having better sleep habits. Are you finding it harder and harder to go to sleep at a reasonable time? Have you been struggling to wake up in time for work or school more than usual? Do you find yourself feeling tired and unmotivated throughout the day? If you answered yes to all these questions, then this guide is for you.
Fixing your sleep schedule isn't always as simple as closing your eyes at the same time every night. If it was, there would probably be far fewer insomniacs in the world. Here, we break down some of the basics of making and sticking to an effective sleep routine.
Why Does A Sleep Routine Matter?
Having a sleep routine matters because, without a consistent sleep schedule, people often deprive themselves of enough restful sleep to function well the next day.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to short-term problems such as impaired memory, decreased alertness, moodiness, irritability, and anxiety. This, in turn, can cause people to struggle in school or at work, experience challenges in their relationships, and even become more prone to risks like car accidents.
Getting consistently poor quality sleep also has long-term negative effects on one's health. Chronic sleep deprivation is believed to be a risk factor for serious health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and weakened immune systems.
Understanding How Your Sleep Clock Works
So, what causes people to veer off track from their usual sleep schedules? To understand this, you first have to understand how your sleep clock works.
Circadian rhythms are internal changes (such as hormone release, digestion, and body temperature) that follow a 24-hour cycle. These changes are regulated by several biological clocks within our tissues and organs, which are coordinated by a master clock in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
This clock also controls our sleep-wake cycle or the times of day when you feel sleepy/awake the most. The SCN is sensitive to environmental factors such as light and dark and often takes the rising and setting of the sun as a cue to induce sleepiness/wakefulness.
The bottom line is that most people have a natural pattern for sleep. They tend to feel sleepy and alert at around the same time every day. This is regulated by their body clock, which is influenced by things like the amount of light they're exposed to and the time of day they receive it, as well as what they eat, how much exercise they get, etc.
How Does A Sleep Routine Get Thrown Off?
A sleep routine can get thrown off by factors such as:
- Increased exposure to blue light at night
- Decreased exposure to sunlight during the day
- Shift work or jet lag
- Medical conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and blindness
If left untreated, these factors can trigger sleeping disorders such as delayed sleep phase syndrome and non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder.
Is Screen Time Before Bed Messing With Your Sleep?
Studies have shown that screen time before bed does mess with your sleep.
Cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices emit blue light, an artificial color that is very similar to sunlight. When your eyes are exposed to blue light at night, it tricks your brain into thinking that it isn't time yet to go to bed.
According to research, nighttime exposure to blue light leads to increased alertness and reduced production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleepiness and relaxation. Low levels of melatonin are associated with daytime tiredness, irritability, and insomnia.
But it's not all about the time you spend on your devices hours before bed. What you do on your phone also matters. For example, doom-scrolling, or the habit of obsessing over bad news on social media and websites, can stimulate your brain and increase your heart rate. This makes it harder for you to fall and stay asleep.
So, if you want to fall asleep earlier, get more deep sleep, and wake up at a reasonable time, try to stay off your phone at least three hours before bedtime.
Tips For Fixing Your Sleep Schedule
Aside from reducing your exposure to light and cutting back on your social media usage at night, there are other ways to improve your sleep hygiene and fix your sleep schedule, including:
1. Follow A Regular Schedule
Humans are creatures of habit – we thrive on routines and consistency. And that extends to the way we sleep.
It’s best for your body if you’re falling asleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day. When your sleep routine is interrupted, it’s important to get back to your regular bedtime routine as quickly as you can. The brain and body seem to work better with a regular rhythm set by a schedule.
Resist the urge to sleep late in the morning. Try to go to bed and wake up as closely as you can to your normal schedule.
2. Avoid Napping
Taking a long afternoon nap can prevent you from feeling tired when it’s bedtime. If you just can’t resist the pull of a long afternoon nap, keep it to 30 minutes or less. This prevents you from moving into the deepest sleep cycles during the day, which can further disrupt your internal clock.
3. Eat Early
It helps to eat a light, early meal. When you eat a large or heavy meal shortly before you go to bed, it can be difficult to fall asleep. It’s a good idea to enjoy your last meal of the day at least 2-3 hours before you plan to go to bed.
Try to get into a routine of eating dinner around the same time every evening and then going to bed at roughly the same time. If you’re hungry before bedtime, limit yourself to a light snack, ideally, one that includes a combination of protein and carbohydrates, like an apple and a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter.
Be careful of what you drink before bed, too. Caffeine and alcohol can hamper your sleep rhythm, so it’s best to avoid them completely as bedtime approaches.
4. Use Light To Your Advantage
Light is a signal to your body and brain that it’s time to be awake. If you find yourself wanting to nod off during the day, it’s a good idea to expose yourself to natural light.
When it’s time to be asleep, make sure your bed is in a nice, dark space. This tells your brain to crank up melatonin production so you can fall right asleep. Turn all the lights off in your bedroom and use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block ambient light. Not only can this help you fall asleep, but it can also help you stay asleep and get a good night’s rest.
Read our guide on colors to help you sleep better.
5. Keep Your Room Quiet
When it’s time to go to bed, a quiet environment can help you feel drowsy. Meanwhile, loud noises can prevent you from falling asleep.
Just make sure any disruptive sounds like text and email notifications are turned off. Most phones have a “Do Not Disturb” mode for bedtime.
6. Cool Off
As our bodies prepare to sleep, our body temperature begins to drop. A cool bedroom can help this process and keep you sleeping well throughout the night.
You can use a fan during the hottest summer months to keep air circulating throughout your room. It also helps to invest in a cool mattress and breathable bed sheets that don’t trap body heat.
Learn more on the ideal sleeping temperature.
Regular exercise is another great way to maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle. A rigorous workout tires out your muscles, which can help you feel drowsier at bedtime. It also encourages the production of endorphins that can generate feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Exercise also encourages your brain to produce more melatonin during your sleep cycle. Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise each day can significantly help you sleep better. And if you’re exercising outside, you get the added benefit of light exposure, which helps you feel more alert and awake during the day.
When we’re stressed or anxious, our bodies produce the stress hormone cortisol, which makes us feel wound up and on edge. This adrenaline makes it very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Life can be stressful and it’s not always easy to relax.
To help relax your body and mind, relaxation techniques are often recommended. The goal is to essentially teach your body how to fall asleep. Methods include deep breathing exercises, meditation, stretching, yoga, and even journaling before bed.
9. Get The Right Support
Your head, neck, and shoulders need the right support from your mattress and pillow.
If you’re sleeping on a bed or pillow that is sagging or not offering the right kind of pressure relief and support, you might be sleeping poorly because you can’t get comfortable. If you’re tossing and turning at night to find the right sleeping position, that can end up disrupting your sleep schedule.
What Is the Ideal Time To Go To Bed And Wake Up?
There is no one-size-fits-all bedtime and waking time for everyone. The answer will depend on how many hours of sleep you need each night (it's different for everyone) and what time you need to be up in the morning.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the appropriate sleep time for adults is between 7 to 8 hours. However, some adults require up to 10 hours of sleep or as few as 6 hours of sleep.
Again, the right duration is relative and depends on what feels good for you. The only way to find out how much sleep you actually need is to test it. Try sleeping at different lengths and observe your quality of sleep and your mood, energy levels, and productivity the next day.
One simple way to go about setting an ideal bedtime is by figuring out what time you have to be up each day. You can do this by making a rough routine of your day-to-day and pinpointing how much time you must allot yourself in the morning to get ready, have breakfast, exercise, and go to work. From there, work your way backward to determine the appropriate wake-up and sleeping time for you.
How Long Does It Take To Adjust Your Sleep Schedule?
It may take a couple of weeks to a few months to adjust your sleep schedule. Unfortunately, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly how long it would take to get back on track with a healthy sleep schedule. This will depend on a myriad of factors, from your environment to your work/school schedule, chronotype, and ability to stick to a routine.
When trying to enforce healthy sleeping habits, try not to change too much too fast. For example, try moving your bedtime back by just 15 minutes every couple of days until you get it back to where it needs to be.
It can feel frustrating to have your sleep cycle get off track. Just be patient and allow yourself the time and space to make small changes that can help reset your circadian clock.
The Bottom Line
With a little discipline and dedication, it’s possible to reset your sleep schedule when it gets off-balance. Most people can successfully reset their body clocks within a couple of weeks after a short deviation, barring any serious sleep disorders.
If you try our tips and still have trouble sticking to a regular sleep schedule, or if you think you might be dealing with a sleep disorder, it’s best to consult with your doctor.
Sleep Schedule FAQs
How do I completely fix my sleep schedule?
To completely fix your sleep schedule, you should start and follow a healthy daytime and nighttime routine, make your bedroom more conducive to sleeping, and stay off electronic devices at least three hours before bedtime.
How long will it take me to fix my sleep schedule?
It can take anywhere between a few weeks to several months to fix your sleep schedule.
What is the best sleep schedule?
The best sleep schedule is one that suits your circumstances. One's ideal sleep schedule will depend on their circumstances and their circadian rhythm.