Everyone has a natural sleep schedule and cycle that works best for them, even you. When your sleep cycle is on track, you will have more energy during the day and perform at a higher level. You will fall asleep faster and easier, too, and get better quality sleep overall. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to knock your sleep schedule off track which can leave you feeling tired and unmotivated. If this sounds familiar, there are a few tricks you can try which should help you to reset your sleep clock. We figured out how to fix your sleep schedule so you can get back to sleeping better, longer, and waking up feeling refreshed and ready to conquer your day, every day. Let’s have a look!
What is Your Circadian Rhythm and How Does it Work?
Before we explore ways to reset your internal sleep clock, let’s make sure we all know exactly what a sleep clock or circadian rhythm is and how it works, so we can all start off on the same page.
The sleep clock refers to your body’s internal functions which set off when you feel tired and when you are awake. Your sleep clock also sends signals to your body and mind when it is time to sleep and also when it is time to get out of bed.
This sleep-wake cycle is known as the “Circadian Rhythm” and is largely controlled by your hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends signals to other parts of your brain which trigger the release of melatonin. This hormonal release lets your body know that bedtime is approaching and helps you to start feeling sleepy.
When your circadian rhythm is balanced and functioning properly, you will generally fall into a pattern that causes you to wake up and get sleepy around the same time every day, even without an alarm set. However, there is no specific time of the day this should happen and it varies from person to person. Basically, you can train your circadian rhythm over time to function best for your personal schedule. This is why some people can go to bed at 8 pm, and some people can go to bed at midnight. Surprisingly, both individuals can wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.
Your circadian rhythm is often influenced by a series of internal and external cues such as sunrise, sunset, artificial light, temperature, hormones, noise levels, genes, and neurotransmitters. Certain behaviors also play a huge factor like increased or decreased activity levels, what time we set our alarm clocks, your preferred daily meal schedules, and delaying or depriving yourself of sleep.
What Causes Your Sleep Schedule to Get Off Track?
Have you ever found yourself thinking ‘my sleep schedule is so messed up’ or ‘how did this happen’? If so, you are not alone. There are many ways, some of which are easier than you may think, to disrupt your sleep schedule. This often causes excessive tiredness and inability to function at your highest level during the day.
So what are some of the ways this can happen?
1. Different Time Zones
Traveling across time zones can cause your sleep clock to get off track by forcing you to function at different times of the day than normal. For example, it may be 8 am in your home time zone, but 10 pm in the time zone you traveled to which forces you to get ready for bed when you would normally be waking up. This is also commonly referred to as jet lag.
2. Working at Various Shifts
Having a job that requires long, and sometimes unpredictable hours can also cause your sleep clock to get off track. This often happens to people who work in healthcare like nurses, doctors, caretakers, etc. These workers are usually on-call for a 24-hour period and frequently get woken up throughout the night if they get a chance to rest at all.
Staying up all night, or pulling an all-nighter, can also cause your sleep clock to fall out of its natural rhythm. This is common for students, truck drivers, or anyone staying up for a special event.
4. Personal Whim
It is also common for smaller circumstances to push and nudge your natural sleep rhythm off its normal schedule. For example, you may stay up late to watch “just one more episode” of a show you really like and without intending to, send a signal to your sleep clock that it should adjust to this time schedule. This often happens without your awareness due to its gradual and subtle nature.
Why Is It Important to Align Your Sleep Schedule with Your Internal Clock?
When your sleep schedule does not match your internal clock, it can cause a myriad of mental and physical issues. Some – like grogginess – slow reaction time, lower brain functioning, and increases irritability. All of these can be felt immediately after not getting enough sleep. Other possible side effects caused by poor sleep quality may not be noticeable at first, but over time can cause more serious health problems such as diabetes, obesity, seasonal affective disorder, depression, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.
Tips on How to Get Your Sleep Schedule Back on Track
Now that we know exactly what a circadian rhythm is, how it can fall off track, and why it is important for it to be well-balanced and aligned with our sleep schedule, let’s explore how to fix your sleep schedule so you can get back to a more restful and rewarding sleep pattern.
1. Gradually adjust the time you go to bed until you reach your desired sleep schedule.
It is often more difficult to go to bed earlier than it is to go to bed later. This is why we suggest advancing your bedtime by small increments of 15-20 minutes per night. This may not be the answer you were looking for but be patient and the rewards will become apparent.
So, how long does it take to adjust to a new sleep schedule? It could only take a couple of nights, or it could take as long as a few weeks. It would depend on how easily sleep comes to you and how far off your usual sleep cycle has strayed. If you tend to sleep easily or your sleep schedule is only slightly off track, it will only take a couple of nights. However, if you often have sleeping issues or your sleep clock is severely disoriented then it may take as long as two weeks. For those of you who simply cannot wait, the last tip on our list may be the kind of help you’re looking for.
2. Filter out natural and artificial light as your ideal bedtime approaches.
Your internal clock receives light information from your retinas in your eyes and uses this information to signal other parts of your brain, including the gland that releases melatonin. As we discussed above, the release of melatonin alerts your body that it is time for sleep.
Therefore, exposure to light suppresses the production and release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. For this reason, minimizing your light exposure from electronics and dimming household lighting when you are approaching the time for bed can help you fall asleep faster and easier.
It may seem hard to follow this tip considering how much we tend to use electronics. Still, this is our topmost advice on how to change your sleep schedule, so don’t ignore its potential benefits. When bedtime approaches, turn off your TV, tablet, computer, and phone. Most phones have a function that allows you to set personal limits on your screen time and we highly encourage this if you have difficulty putting down your phone at night.
3. Make your morning bright and full of light.
For the same reasons listed above, exposing yourself to light in the morning will help to reset your internal sleep clock. Manipulating your light exposure can send a signal to your brain that it is time to restart the sleep-wake cycle. Expose yourself to bright, natural light, if possible during the hours you wish to start your morning and gradually lessen your light exposure as the day progresses. This will mimic a normal day for you and causing your sleep schedule to shift in the right direction.
4. Create a routine with a set time to wake up and fall asleep.
When your sleep clock gets off track you may find it difficult to get back into your routine but it is an important step on how to reset your sleep schedule. After gradually adjusting your sleep time, as mentioned in the first tip, establish a regular bedtime and waking hour that you can actually follow through.
Sticking to this routine will pay off and you will find it is easier to get to sleep and wake up each day. This will also help prevent your sleep clock from getting off track in the future.
5. Forget napping and try exercising instead.
When learning how to fix your sleep schedule, this tip makes a world of difference for most people. It is not uncommon to be sleepy throughout the day when attempting to change your sleep schedule. Nevertheless, it is much better to fight the urge to nap so you can fall asleep easier and faster at the appropriate bedtime you have decided on.
We recommend skipping the nap and exercising instead. Not only will it help you stay awake, but it will also give you a boost of adrenaline, use up any stored energy, and promote your body’s production of melatonin. A regular workout also aids to align your circadian rhythm through the connection between your muscles and tissues. Even if you are not fighting off a nap, working out is a great way to realign your sleep clock. While this health tip is also hard to accomplish for many, it is often well worth it.
6. Pay special attention to what food and drinks you consume.
It may seem a bit obvious, but avoid any caffeine after midday. Caffeine may help you perk up in the morning because it is a stimulant but avoid any caffeine intake later in the day. It can prevent you from sleeping at night. This is particularly important when you are trying to shift your sleep schedule but maybe beneficial once it has been normalized, as well.
Your digestion is also tied to your circadian rhythm so make sure you eat dinner at least two to three hours before bed. This will allow your body time to digest your food before it focuses on other health regenerative tasks while your rest. If you set a regular dinner time it can also work as a subtle hint to your body that sleep is approaching within a few hours.
7. Stay up all night and start from scratch in the morning.
If you have been waking up late in the day and want to get back to rising up early in the morning, staying up all night to reset sleep cycle can be a solution. Make sure to plan for a couple of hours of extra sleep and wake up at the desired time without sleeping in again. Otherwise, you will counteract your plan and not get the full benefits desired. This option may not be possible for some people, but if you want to learn how to fix your sleep schedule in one night, this is worth a try.
However, you should note that you will be rather tired throughout the day after you skip sleeping. Therefore, avoid any important tasks that will require concentration, and better give yourself time to relax. Sleep deprivation can cause serious side effects, so take it easy.
Start Getting Back on Track Tonight!
We have now reached the conclusion and hopefully, you already have a firm grasp on how to fix your sleep schedule and know exactly why it is so important to regulate your sleep patterns and keep them regular. Our list of tips is by no means definitive, so find what works best for you and stick to it until you reach your ideal sleep schedule. Start utilizing all of your newly gained knowledge tonight so you can realign your sleep schedule and wake up feeling great every morning!