A good, consistent sleep schedule is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re getting enough restful and healthy sleep. But sometimes, it can be easy for your biological clock – and that sleep schedule– to go off the rails. Maybe you pick up an extra shift at work, pull an all-nighter for a big project, or take a trip to another time zone, which leaves you with jet lag. Whatever the reason, it’s important to reset your internal clock and get your sleep schedule back on track.
9 Ways to Fix Your Sleep Schedule
There are several different ways to help your body’s internal clock get back on track so you feel great when you wake up in the morning. Here’s how to fix your sleep schedule.
- Follow your regular schedule
- Avoid the nap
- Eat early
- Use light to your advantage
- Keep it quiet
- Cool off
- Get the right support
Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates how our bodies move between wakefulness and hours of sleep each day. If you have good sleep hygiene and habits, your sleep schedule can typically stay fairly consistent. But when it’s interrupted or changed in some way, sleeping issues can occur. In the short term, having an imbalanced internal clock and inconsistent sleep schedule can cause feelings of sluggishness in the morning. But over time, inconsistent sleep and prolonged sleep deprivation can cause clinical sleep disorders and other chronic health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
When your sleep habits are interrupted, it’s important to reset your circadian rhythm as soon as you can. Let’s look at the various ways you can fix your sleep problems and get a good night’s rest again.
1. Follow Your Regular Schedule
Good sleep habits are formed by sticking to a schedule. 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.
Life can be busy and unpredictable. But when it disrupts your normal sleep schedule, whether due to jet lag, work, vacation, etc., try to return to your regular bedtime routine as quickly as you can. 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. Don’t even think about hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock or delaying your morning routine.
2. Avoid the Nap
When your sleep schedule is interrupted, an afternoon nap is like a siren call – it’s tempting, seductive and not what you need. Taking an afternoon nap will likely just prevent you from feeling drowsy when it’s bedtime. Falling asleep will be more difficult, and you’ll wake up the next day feeling sleep-deprived. This, in turn, will make you want to take another afternoon nap, and so the sleep deprivation cycle continues. And long naps can be especially damaging to your deep sleep cycle.
If you just can’t resist the pull of an 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. Take a quick walk around the block or enjoy a few moments sitting in the sunshine – doing this can help signal to your brain that it’s time to be awake and alert. Your brain will stop producing melatonin, which is our natural sleep hormone.
When it’s time to be asleep, make sure your bed is in a nice, dark space. This tells your brain to crank up the melatonin production so you can fall right asleep. Turn off all the lights 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 help you stay asleep and get a good night’s rest.
5. Keep It Quiet
When it’s time to go to bed, a quiet environment can help you feel more drowsy. As well, loud noises can prevent you from falling asleep. Even as you’re dropping off to sleep, your brain continues to process noise. If you’re surrounded by loud, distracting noises – like banging doors or ringing phones, for example – they can hamper your ability to get a good night’s sleep. It helps to turn off the TV, leave your phone in another room, and make sure your bedroom is calm and quiet.
If you’re the type of person who finds it hard to fall asleep when a room is completely quiet, try adding some white noise – a fan, humidifier, air purifier, or white noise machine. You can also find white noise apps for your mobile device – that can be the exception for keeping your phone out of your room! 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. Staying cool is key to getting a great night’s sleep.
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. Some sleepers report that journaling helps them clear their minds of all their worries for the coming day, which helps them then fall asleep faster and easier. A warm bath or shower can also help you relax.
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.
How Long Does It Take to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule?
Sleep patterns can vary widely across sleepers. The time it takes to adjust your sleep schedule and develop a regular sleep routine depends on several factors. It may take a couple of weeks or it could take a few months. With a little dedication and patience, it’s possible to reset your body’s circadian rhythm when it gets off-balance. 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. Give yourself time.
Most people can successfully reset their body clocks within a couple of weeks after a short deviation, barring any serious sleep disorders. And as always, if you think you might be dealing with a sleep disorder, it’s best to talk with your doctor.
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. Try a few of these tips for fixing your sleep schedule and get ready for sweet dreams.