Our daily lives consist of schedules. We have work schedules, exercise schedules, and even cleaning schedules. But what about our sleep schedules? Paying the proper attention to your sleep schedule helps you get restful sleep night after night, so you can feel refreshed and ready to take on each day.
Luckily, fixing a sleep schedule isn’t as hard as it may seem. In this post, we discuss 5 simple steps to get your sleep-wake cycle back on track.
1. Keep Your Bedroom Dark
Night is characterized by darkness and dim light from the stars. The same should apply to your bedroom. In order to sleep well, you must create a space that allows our bodies to release melatonin and become sleepy.
Eliminating light starts with putting down the electronics. We also recommend dimming any overhead lights or switching to dim lamps in the evening hours. If your bedroom faces an outside light, installing blackout curtains or dark shades can help.
Place digital clocks away from the bed and avoid watching tv in the bedroom. To truly eliminate all light-emitting distractions, we recommend keeping all electronics outside of the bedroom— that includes your cell phone, too! Blue light emitted from these devices hinders melatonin production and, in turn, delays sleep.
2. Set a Regular Sleep Routine
A sleep schedule can only be successful if you set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it every single day, including weekends. If you wake up at 6:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, do the same on Saturday and Sunday. The same principle is used for setting a bedtime. Using an alarm clock can be helpful but you will need to resist the urge to hit that snooze button.
Setting a schedule and sticking to it will keep your circadian rhythm in check. You can monitor your efforts by evaluating how you feel each morning. If you are still feeling tired or sluggish, then more work needs to be done.
3. Schedule Workouts At Least 2 Hours Before Bedtime
Exercise causes you to burn calories and expel energy, and though you may feel wiped after a particularly vigorous workout, it doesn’t mean your body is ready to drift off to sleep. Working out causes an increase in internal temperature, speeds up your heart rate, and stimulates your central nervous system— all of which are not conducive for sleep.
That’s not to say a daily workout is bad for sleep, though— it just needs to be timed right. Recent studies on the relationship between exercise and sleep show working out can help you get deeper, more rejuvenating rest when scheduled appropriately.
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, involves getting your heart rate up. Taking a power walk, running, or a game of basketball are types of aerobic exercise. Workouts that include cardio are best done either in the mornings or a couple of hours before bed. Strength training, lifting weights, or push-ups are types of anaerobic exercises that can be done in the afternoon.
Gentle stretches are also beneficial just before bed. Stretching can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is one of three divisions in the nervous system. Its primary functions are to conserve energy as the heart rate slows down, activate the release of hormones, and relax muscles in the intestinal tract.
4. Modify Your Diet
It would seem that no matter how hard we try, our diets can get a little crazy. During the holidays we may find ourselves eating lots of yummy sweets and heavy entrees. Mealtimes tend to change based upon what extracurricular activity the kids are participating in at the moment. Heavy or late meals can create interrupted sleep patterns.
Eating heavy meals right before bed is not recommended. The digestive system does not shut down because your getting some shuteye. It actually continues to create the acid needed for digestion and repairs tissue in the gut. While it is active, it is also slowing down. Since we are not eating and drinking while sleeping, our gut can enter a slow mode. If our meals contain spicy or greasy foods, we may experience heartburn or indigestion.
Be mindful of what you are putting in your body. Choose foods that are lower in sugar and higher in protein. Foods high in fiber and vitamin B6 aids the body in the production of melatonin. Examples of these include:
- Whole Grains
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
5. Monitor Caffeine Intake
Let’s start by saying that enjoying your morning cup of joe is okay. But caffeine can also hide in other beverages, such as tea and soda. Monitoring your caffeine intake can prevent you from consuming caffeine too close to bedtime. For the best sleep, we recommend cutting caffeine at least 5 hours before bedtime.
If you enjoy a beverage at bedtime, then check out this list to pick the right one.
- Warm Milk: contains high levels of tryptophan which transforms to melatonin in the body.
- Almond Milk: contains high levels of magnesium and tryptophan.
- Malted Milk: includes drinks like ovaltine that are packed with minerals which lead a relaxing night’s sleep.
- Decaffeinated Green Tea: contains theanine, an amino acid known for reducing stress.
- Chamomile Tea: known for its soothing properties, it is a traditional sleep beverage. Often used in the treatment of insomnia
- Herbal Tea with Lemon Balm: Most herbal teas are naturally decaffeinated. When you add lemon balm to them, you get a stress busting cocktail that will increase sleep quality.
- Coconut Water: In the purest form, coconut water is a mineral packed beverage. Along with high levels of potassium and magnesium, it contains vitamin B6 which helps reduce stress.
- Bananas: Potassium is known to relax muscles enabling the body to sleep. For a beverage, blend a banana in almond milk.
- Tart Cherry Juice: It may come as a surprise, but, cherries are packed with melatonin. Studies are showing that 16 ounces of cherry juice a day can improve sleep.
- Water: Staying hydrated is critical to the production of melatonin. Dehydration of as little as 2% can hinder melatonin production.
Adjusting for a Temporary Sleep Schedule
The tips listed above will help fix your sleep schedule on a more permanent basis. But, what if circumstances are thrown your way that alter sleep for a short period. Maybe you’re going on a trip for work or you work variable hours. What can you do to adjust your sleep schedule?
If you’re a shift worker, it’s not uncommon to find yourself punching in when it’s dark and out when its daylight. Shift work can change our biological clock, causing our sleep patterns to shift. To combat this, try wearing sunglasses on your drive home and do your best to avoid all sunlight. Sunglasses can help get your body adjusted to the darkness and you can fall asleep faster upon arriving home.
What about traveling? Jet lag is a prime culprit for sleep deprivation, but you can avoid this common sleep disorder by planning ahead. A few days before your scheduled trip, try adjusting your sleep schedule to the time zone of your destination. You may need to stay up later or go to bed earlier. This will help your body to be ready for the time change.
Why Should You Fix a Sleep Schedule?
Quality sleep is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Without quality sleep, our bodies’ immune systems break down, leaving us feeling exhausted and fatigued.
The absence of quality sleep is also connected with mental illness. If we’re tired, we may spend more time “catching up on sleep,” which can lead to depression. Getting adequate amounts of healthy sleep ensures our brain is producing normal levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. When the production of serotonin is diminished, the threat of mental illness rises. Other illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are also greater in those who don’t get adequate sleep.
Good sleep hygiene helps you to build a healthy immune system. There is 70% of all immune cells living in your gut. These cells function at optimum levels if we keep a consistent sleep-wake cycle. They have time to heal and regenerate which makes them stronger.
Having a consistent sleep schedule also helps us to keep illnesses like the common cold away. It keeps our stress levels lower and aids in memory. Sleep is what keeps the body functioning as it should and that is why you should fix a sleep schedule.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can pulling an all-nighter reset my sleep cycle?
While some suggest pulling an all-nighter to reset your sleep cycle, doing this can actually throw your sleep cycle off even more. When you fall asleep for the first time after being sleep deprived, your body often cycles through stages of sleep quicker and spends more time in REM sleep— which is not how your circadian rhythm functions normally.
Plus, pulling an all-nighter is not safe for our day-to-day functionality, as it impedes our judgment and makes it harder to do everyday tasks such as operating a motor vehicle.
Instead of depriving yourself of sleep, use some of the other tips to adjust your sleep cycle gradually. While an all-nighter may seem like a quick fix, it often leaves you feeling groggy and cranky the following day(s).
How long does it take to adjust sleep schedule?
For most people, it will take 3 or 4 nights to adjust to a new sleep schedule. To do this, one needs to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Make adjustments in small increments instead of all at once. Remember to create a space conducive to a good night’s sleep and take measures to eat healthy and exercise regularly.
Is it ok to stay up for 24 hours?
While staying up for 24 hours straight isn’t going to kill you, it’s certainly not recommended. Depriving yourself of much-needed sleep impacts your memory, judgment, coordination, vision, and hearing, among other things. Plus, going without sleep often makes you irritable, drowsy, and hungry. Going without sleep can also cause increased stress levels and muscle tension, which isn’t necessarily conducive to productivity.
Sleep is more important to our health than most realize. Without adequate rest, our bodies are unable to function as they are designed to. Life will happen and schedules will change. Sleep problems are going to happen. Keeping up will require healthy sleep. Sleep happens at the same time every day. So if you are experiencing a breach in your sleep schedule, try these 5 simple ways to get back the quality sleep you deserve.