Having a high quality sleep schedule that works for you is crucial to supporting a healthy mind and body. You’ve probably been there before: one late night that starts a chain reaction of going to bed later and later, until you’re scrolling on the Internet looking for ways to get back on track. Perhaps that’s you right now.
Although developing an unhealthy sleep schedule is often too easy, usually just involving a couple of late nights or early morning wake-ups, getting back to a healthy sleep schedule that aligns with your needs can be much more difficult, especially if you’re unsure of what steps to take to correct it. In this article, you will learn more about your sleep schedule, and tips for how to adjust your sleep schedule for a more focused mind and healthy body.
Why does Your Sleep Schedule Matter?
Your sleep quality and your sleep hygiene can drastically affect your life. This is because sleep allows our bodies and minds to rest and reset. If you think back to times in your life when you’ve had a good, consistent sleep schedules versus times when you cut back on sleep, and your sleep schedule was inconsistent, you probably have some understanding of the importance of sleep and your sleep schedule.
Having a good sleep schedule means you are getting enough sleep, and you are falling asleep and waking up when you want to. It may sound easy, but as many of us know, it is a delicate balance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep every night for optimal health and well being. This may make you think that as long as you’re getting 7 hours of sleep every night, then your sleep schedule doesn’t matter then, right? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.
If you’re like most adults, you probably have obligations that require you to wake up, whether it be school, work, taking care of your children, etc. While you may think that here and there you can stay up until 1 am if you need to wake up at 8 am, you’ll still get your 7 hours, for example. However, because people and their bodies are largely driven by habit, this could result in your sleep schedule for the rest of the week being affected, making it harder to fall asleep at night, or you could still wake up before you get your full 7 hours, if your body is accustomed to waking up at a certain time.
Unfortunately, you cannot alter or reset your sleep schedules like flipping a switch. This is largely because our bodies run on an internal clock, the timing of which is not up to us.
How does Your Body’s Internal Clock Work?
Our body’s internal clock is known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that determines our sleep routine. In other words, the circadian rhythm manages our sleep and wake cycle, deciding for us when to be alert for the day, or when to be drowsy.
The circadian rhythm is influenced by light exposure, allowing our bodies to more easily align with the day and night cycles. This is because when our eyes are exposed to light, the brain sends signals to keep us more awake, and when there is a decrease in light exposure, i.e. at night, signals from the brain change to ones that promote sleep and relaxation.
This makes a lot of sense if you remove humans from our current context. For most of our existence, we depended on sunlight to see, get around, and work. So sleeping at night when we couldn’t do as much or see as much just made more sense. In this way, the circadian rhythm synchronizes our internal clock with our external environment.
How does Your Circadian Rhythm Affect Your Health?
Most notably, if your circadian rhythm doesn’t match up with the times you are trying to fall asleep and wake up, you may find that you are getting shorter sleep and that it is more difficult to reset your sleep cycle. You may lie in bed awake at night unable to fall asleep, and then wake up in the morning without enough. This can then lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has a number of serious health effects, and you will likely feel groggy and less alert.
The circadian rhythm also affects our hormone release, digestion, and eating habits, and body temperature. And when your desired schedules do not align with your circadian rhythms, these factors can further ingrain the bad sleep schedule in us. For example, if you had been sleeping in late because of your poor sleep hygiene, then you may not be hungry for dinner until late and night, meaning you will eat later than normal, and then fall asleep later, too.
How does Your Sleep Schedule Get Off Track?
Of course, our problems with developing and sticking to a healthy sleep schedule in the modern world are because we no longer depend on sunlight to work or recreate. And, sometimes we feel that we need to stay up later to work because we have an exam the next day, or an important presentation for work. Below, we will discuss some of the most common reasons for your sleep schedule getting off track.
If you’ve ever crossed time zones in a short period of time, usually on a plane, then you’ve probably experienced jet lag. For example, if you live in Eastern Standard Time, and take a flight to China where the time is 12 hours later, you may have some trouble going to bed at night and getting up in the morning because your internal clock is still set on EST. However, jet lag doesn’t have to be this extreme to still affect our sleep schedule. Even a difference of just a couple of hours can affect your sleep quality.
Weekend/Social Jet Lag
Weekend jet lag, also called social jet lag, is when you adjust your sleep schedule during the weekend usually to stay up later for social events. This can look a little different for everybody, but is often associated with going out with friends on the weekend, and results in you staying up later and sleeping in. Altering your sleep and wake cycle, even for just two days, can make it that much more difficult to go to sleep early on Sunday, so that you can wake up well-rested and on time Monday morning for work.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
Revenge bedtime procrastination is when you sacrifice your sleep to stay up procrastinating or relaxing. This is often the case when you have a very busy or stressful day where you didn’t have time to relax; instead of going to sleep, you may find yourself staying up, commonly on electronic devices surfing social media, or watching TV. You may also use revenge bedtime procrastination as a way to get some alone time. For example, if you are a parent of young children, you may find it difficult to get the peaceful alone time you need while your kids are awake.
This may also be causing what is known as delayed sleep phase syndrome, where your sleep is delayed by two or more hours from what is considered normal or appropriate.
Whatever the reasons for your bedtime procrastination, it results in you staying up later, negatively impacting your sleep schedule, and changing your sleep habits.
As we discussed earlier, light exposure directly influences circadian rhythms, which in turn affect when we feel drowsy, and when we feel alert. Firstly, there is regular light exposure, like sunlight that may be altering when you wake up or go to sleep. If you are a night shift worker, or if you are a proud night owl, this may be a problem for you. For example, if you work from 12 am to 8 am in the morning, you need to find time during the day to sleep. However, being exposed to sunlight when it is time for you to go to bed may make it more difficult to feel drowsy and fall asleep.
This may also be a problem for you if you live close to the North or South poles. For example, if you live in Alaska, during the Winter the sun sets early, and during the summer the sun sets late. If you have a work schedule that doesn’t change with the changes in sunrise and sunset, like many people, this may make it more difficult to fall asleep at the appropriate time each night.
Blue light is another part of light exposure that may affect your sleep. The screens from our devices emit blue light. Blue light tells the brain it is still daytime, which relays the message to our circadian rhythm, and rather than feeling drowsy at nighttime, if you are looking at a screen emitting blue light, you may feel more awake than you should.
Daylight Savings Time Adjustments
Like jet lag from travel, daylight savings time adjustments can also affect your sleep. Even a one-hour change in when you’re supposed to wake up and go to sleep can create a domino effect that throws you off. Furthermore, even if you manage to stick to your desired sleep schedule through the adjustments in daylight savings, you may still feel affected by the change until your circadian rhythm catches back up with you.
Pulling an All-Nighter
Pulling an all-nighter is rarely a good idea. While you may find it necessary to study all night, so you pass your test the next day, you may actually be better off on the exam if you sleep. According to researchers, sleeping helps you strengthen your memories.
Moreover, if you do pull an all-nighter, you may face the consequences of a drastic change to your sleep schedule for days afterward. In this case, you’re practically fighting your internal clock, and you will likely fall asleep as soon as you give your body the chance, further enforcing poor sleep hygiene going forward.
If you have pulled an all-nighter, then you likely used caffeine to stay up through the night. This is because caffeine keeps us alert and awake, making it more difficult to fall asleep. If you’re drinking caffeine during the day, and especially into the night, you may find that you can’t fall asleep at night when you want to.
Many issues with sleep can be linked to mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. Having anxiety or too much stress at night can make it difficult to fall asleep, because you find your mind racing when you should be sleeping. Depression can make you feel tired during the day when you should be alert, making it harder to sleep when you know you should.
Sleep disorders may also be affecting your sleep schedule. If you consistently find it hard to stay asleep or fall asleep at night, that may be because you have insomnia. Restless legs syndrome is another sleep disorder that may make it difficult for you to sleep at night. Furthermore, having inconsistent sleep times itself may be considered a sleep disorder if it regularly impacts your sleep.
Tips to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule
1. Figure out what is affecting your sleep
Before you can take any real steps to improve your sleep schedule, you need to figure out what it is that’s keeping you up too late, or causing you to fall asleep too early. If none of the common reasons cited above apply to you, perhaps it is because you haven’t set a specific wake and sleep time. If that is also not it, you should speak to your doctor, or a sleep specialist.
2. Commit to a realistic sleep and wake cycle
If you set sleeping goals that you can’t or shouldn’t meet, then it’s never going to work. Learn how much sleep you need to feel good the next day (and keep in mind it should be at least 7 hours if you’re an adult). Then, once you have that in mind, choose a wake-up time and sleep time that suits your schedule. You should consider your daytime obligations, and leave sometime during the day at night, so you can relax and won’t sacrifice any sleep for free time.
Also, take into account how fast you fall asleep, or how often, if at all, you wake up during the night. If you take 1 hour to fall asleep at night, or are awake in the middle of the night for 1 hour, you will need to add this on to how much sleep you need. For example, if you are in bed for 7 hours each night, but only sleeping 6 of them, you should allocate another hour for sleep.
3. Limit light exposure
Even if you are really dedicated to getting up and going to sleep at the times you’ve set for yourself, light exposure may still be an obstacle, making it more challenging for you. So, if you work the night shift, and sleep during the day, try getting blackout curtains to avoid bright light. Also, limit your exposure to your devices before bed, and if you must use your device before bed, try using a night mode feature that reduces blue light emissions.
4. Stick to it!
Perhaps the most difficult part of all this is sticking to your sleep schedule, no matter what. This means you need to cut down on any changes to your sleep schedule. This may mean that you leave your friends a little bit earlier on the weekends, or you set alarms on days you have off from work, so you don’t sleep in too late. The more regular your sleep schedule becomes, the easier it will be to stick to it.
Getting regular exercise helps you to sleep better and easier while also supporting good cardiovascular health. Even light exercise will help you align with your circadian rhythm, and promote melatonin production. Furthermore, living an active lifestyle will make you more tired at night, and you may find it easier to fall asleep. However, if you are going to do intense exercise, give yourself at least an hour before going to bed.
6. Avoid naps
You may love napping, and naps may help you feel rejuvenated afterward, but they can also throw off your sleep routine. Try to cut out naps during the day, or limit how long you nap, and give yourself several hours before your bedtime to ensure that you are sleepy when it is time to go to bed.
7. Practice a relaxing bedtime routine
Developing and practicing a relaxing bedtime routine is a great way to make sure you are getting to bed when you want to. This may look different for everybody, but some good ways to help you relax at night include doing yoga, meditating, stretching, taking a warm bath, and reading.
8. Improve your bedtime environment
Your sleep environment is very important for getting restful sleep, and sleeping at the right times. Try to cut out noise as much as possible by using a white noise machine, for example. Also, reduce the light exposure in your room, avoid all bright lights, and keep your room cool. Furthermore, make sure you are comfortable. This may mean making sure you have comfortable sheets, and pillows, and having a good mattress goes a long way. Check out PlushBeds for a great mattress that will improve your sleep.
How Long Does it Take to Reset Your Sleep Schedule?
How long it takes to reset your sleep schedule is different for everybody. However, the general rule of thumb is one time zone (one hour) per day. Others say that it could take about 10 or up to two weeks to adjust to a new sleep schedule, especially if it is a drastic change.
Keeping this in mind, it is always best to start as soon as you can to change your sleep schedule, as it may take longer than you had anticipated.
Is Your Mattress Impacting Your Sleep Schedule?
As we discussed earlier, having a comfortable bedroom environment is a key part of getting quality sleep. Having a comfortable and supportive mattress is a crucial part of this. If you are sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t support you as you need it to, or is not as comfortable as you like, it is probably more difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Therefore, having the right mattress can make the difference. PlushBeds offers a variety of natural latex and memory foam mattress that are both luxuriously comfortable and supportive. With PlushBeds’ mattresses, you will look forward to going to bed, and you will wake up feeling better rested every morning.
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