As much as sleep is critical for overall health and well-being, most people struggle to sleep due to health issues or a distorted sleep-wake cycle. If you're one of them, don't worry since there are ways you can fix your sleep schedule and enjoy better sleep.
There's a reason why you tend to feel sleepy around the same time each night, and even if you don't set the alarm, you wake up at the same time each morning. Provided you're not pulling all-nighters or traveling across several time zones, the body follows consistent sleep patterns, which is essential for getting the high-quality sleep you need. Do you struggle to fall asleep at night and find it even harder to wake up when the alarm clock goes off? If yes, you might be struggling with an inefficient sleep cycle, a high sleep debt, or a combination of the two. This article discusses some of the ways to reset your sleep schedule.
Sleep schedules vary from person to person, depending largely on the environmental signals sent to the body, such as the timing of an alarm, when we are most active during the day, when we eat, and when we go to bed. However, even though your sleep schedules depend partly on the environmental cues you send to the body, you can still send signals to adjust your sleep schedule. Therefore, if you want to adjust your sleep schedule back on track, you will have to reset your body clock. Cardinali (2000) showed that the body clock regulates the body's circadian rhythms, the patterns of mental, physical, and behavioral changes such as sleep patterns. These are regulated by body temperature, hormone secretion, and external factors like darkness and light.
We all have a central biological clock that regulates the circadian rhythm, thus dictating our natural sleep and wake preferences. It's a 24- hour sleep-wake cycle located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It responds to external signals that tell the body it's time to go to bed. Consequently, sometimes your circadian rhythm can get off-balance due to jet lag, all-nighters, shift work, and traveling across time zones. Although, there's always a way back to a good night's sleep.
Be Exposed to Light
Among the best ways to fix your sleep schedule is to plan your exposure to light. When exposed to light, your brain is signaled to stop producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. It helps make you feel awake and alert. Darkness sends cues to the brain to make more melatonin, making you feel drowsy. As a result, exposing yourself to light in the morning can help you stay awake. You can open the curtains, take a walk, or bask in the sun. On the contrary, you can prepare for sleep by turning off or dimming bright lights at night. Also, avoid glowing electronic screens for some time before sleeping as they can stimulate your brain for several hours.
Maintain a Regular Schedule
Being consistent is important in maintaining an effective sleep schedule. According to Buboltz & Soper (2002), people who had a fixed bedtime and wake-up time consistently followed it through had an effective sleep schedule. Regular sleep patterns help recalibrate the body clock and promote circadian alignment, which is critical for quality sleep. With time you're able to fall asleep and wake up with ease.
When trying to fix the sleep pattern, you can feel fatigued throughout the day, and the temptation to nap can be nagging. However, if you give in, you could prolong the problem. Sleep experts suggest that napping is like hitting your sleep schedule with more irregular winks, which isn't a good fix. Avoid napping during the day and if you have to, keep your naps not more than 30 minutes and not later than midafternoon. Additionally, long naps may cause you to have grogginess, resulting from waking up from deep sleep.
Hashimoto & Masubuchi (2014) found that regular exercise helped reset the internal body clock. If you do the exercise outdoors, you also benefit from daytime exposure to the sun. Moreover, most body tissues, including the skeletal muscle, are linked to a biological clock. Therefore when you work out, the muscle responds by aligning to the circadian rhythm. Exercise also helps an individual sleep better by promoting melatonin production. However, note that the timing of workouts is critical too. Don't exercise too soon before bedtime. A workout too close to bedtime can help keep the brain and body on, making it harder to fall asleep. Lastly, ensure the exercise is regular, especially in the mornings.
Stay Away From Food before Bedtime
Avoid sugar-packed snacks, which could cause a sugar spike, and caffeine and, nicotine, stimulants. Also, spicy and acidic foods may cause heartburn or acid reflux. Moreover, eating early gives the body enough time to digest the meal. Additionally, eating dinner around the same time each day gets your body used to a routine. Avoid fatty foods as they might disrupt sleep since they take a while to digest. Take a light snack combined with carbs and protein, such as wheat toast and almond butter if you're hungry.
A Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Sadeh et al. (2010) advised that you should set the mood and create a relaxing bedtime routine. It can be a warm and soothing bath, playing relaxing music, or something you find relaxing like reading a book. Ensure that the bed is comfortable, the room is dark, and the temperature isn't too warm. A quiet sleeping environment is also essential for a good night's sleep. If your neighborhood is noisy, white noise can help you get quality sleep. White noise is a steady, soothing sound that masks environmental noise. Also, you can wear earplugs to block outside sounds.
While these tips might not cure all, they're meant to help you sleep faster and longer. If your insomnia is chronic, consider consulting and reaching out to a professional for help. Note that sleep problems are common side effects of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, if you’ve noticed other symptoms, it’s a good indication that you should see a doctor. Practicing good sleep hygiene can help you get back on track. Avoid heavy meals and bright lights before bed. Ensure the sleeping space is comfortable, cool, and quiet. During the day, be active and evade naps to sleep better at night. All the best.
Brown, F. C., Buboltz Jr, W. C., & Soper, B. (2002). Relationship Of Sleep Hygiene Awareness, Sleep Hygiene Practices And Sleep Quality In University Students. Behavioral Medicine, 28(1), 33-38.
Cardinali, D. P. (2000). The Human Body Circadian: How The Biologic Clock Influences Sleep And Emotion. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 21(1), 9-16.
Sadeh, A., Tikotzky, L., & Scher, A. (2010). Parenting And Infant Sleep. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 14(2), 89-96.
Yamanaka, Y., Hashimoto, S., Masubuchi, S., Natsubori, A., Nishide, S. Y., Honma, S., & Honma, K. I. (2014). Differential Regulation Of Circadian Melatonin Rhythm And Sleep-Wake Cycle By Bright Lights And Non-Photic Time Cues In Humans. American Journal Of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative And Comparative Physiology, 307(5), R546-R557.
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