Sleep deprivation can negatively impact our health and well-being
You might have noticed that your body tends to like getting up naturally at a certain time in the morning, and you fall asleep or get tired at a certain time in the evening. These sleep habits are coordinated by your circadian rhythm, a system in your body that many also refer to as your “internal clock.”
It’s a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that helps you get a good night’s sleep at the time your body deems ideal. Humans function by using circadian rhythms, but other living creatures such as animals, cyanobacteria, and even fungi utilise their own as well.
For adult humans, our circadian rhythms are backed by the 24-hour light/dark cycle of Earth’s rotation. Our sleep patterns can also be influenced by our external environment and how well we take care of ourselves.
You’ve likely run into a situation where you’ve disrupted your healthy sleep schedule, whether by altering your sleep routine to stay out late, drinking caffeine too late, and many more reasons. Disruption can affect our health, so it’s important to rebalance our circadian rhythm. Here’s how to fix your sleep schedule.
Why Sleep Quality is Important
Sleep, like food, water, and air, is an essential part of being human. It allows our bodies and minds to recharge, and a natural sleep schedule ensures that we can awake refreshed and alert, ready for the day. A healthy sleep schedule has also been proven to stave off diseases and improve our immune systems. Poor sleep hygiene may result in impaired abilities, as our brains cannot function off too little sleep.
The numbers may vary, but adults generally need between 7-9 hours of quality sleep. Teenagers and young children may need more. Unfortunately, a poor sleep environment, too much light exposure, night shifts, and more can all prevent us from getting to bed earlier and getting the adequate amount of sleep we need.
Some people can develop a tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation, also known as circadian rhythm sleep disorders. They may not be aware that their bodies and brains are struggling due to a lack of better sleep and may be at higher risk for certain diseases and medical conditions. Those may include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, poor mental health, and early death.
Tips for a Consistent Sleep Schedule
As you can see, having a consistent sleep schedule is imperative to your physical and mental health. But if you’re someone who likes to drink energy drinks late in the day, consistently does shift work at random times of the day, or just generally has trouble falling asleep, it can be difficult. If you have a serious condition that prohibits you from fixing your sleep schedule, consult with a sleep specialist or your general physician. This article is not medical advice but rather general information for healthy individuals. There are even more sleep myths and facts we don’t cover in this article.
Let the morning sun come in
Before there was artificial light, the sun was what dictated when people would fall asleep and wake up. Our internal body clock actually functions according to the sun’s natural patterns, so opening up our curtains to let in the sun come morning time can help to fix our sleep schedules.
Now, it’s very tempting to use blackout curtains and shutters to get that deep sleep we desire upon going to bed, but that can make it more difficult to wake, and we can feel groggy and tired upon waking. If you’re looking to reset your sleep, try letting in that natural bright light. With time, your circadian clock should sync up with this new cue.
Try regular exercise
Exercise has so many benefits, but among those benefits is a healthy sleep schedule. Exercise is highly recommended for those with regular sleep problems and night shift workers. Ironically, on the contrary, poor sleep can result in lower physical activity as well, so it’s easy to see how this can quickly become an unhealthy cycle.
Get regular activity into your day, even if you just begin with at least an hour of walking, jogging, swimming, biking, or hitting up the weights at your local gym. Some night owls love working out late, but research shows that getting our adrenaline high late in the day can disrupt our restful sleep. Still, if you find you can only exercise later in the day, something is better than nothing.
Avoid blue light
Some people find their sleep difficulties begin when they start to use computers and mobile devices (i.e., your cell phone) closer to bedtime. These light rays can impact our natural light schedules and, consequently, our sleep patterns as blue light can suppress the secretion of natural melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin, our “sleep hormone,” is what controls our sleep patterns.
Instead, opt for a more relaxing bedtime ritual. Try reading a book, chat with a partner, and avoid using electronics for up to 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Avoid taking naps
This one can be hard for those who depend on their naps during the daytime, but if you want to achieve your desired bedtime, then it’s best to stop the negative cycle before it starts. Cut out the naps, as napping can be associated with shorter nighttime sleep and consequently may result in difficulties sleeping. If you want to sleep earlier but cannot go without your daily power nap, try to keep it to no longer than 20-30 minutes.
Limit caffeine intake
Caffeine is fine and has plenty of benefits for your health and wellbeing, but caffeine too late in the day can impact your sleep and your sleep duration. If you find yourself struggling to implement a relaxing bedtime routine, then take a look back and assess when was the last time you consumed caffeine. Note that caffeine comes in many forms too, and not just coffee. You’ll find caffeine in tea, sodas, energy drinks, and even in chocolate.
Quitting your post-lunch caffeine fix can be tough to do, but your new sleep schedule will thank you for it.
Adhere to a schedule
To fix a sleeping cycle begins with actually having a cycle. It can be tempting to jump right to behavioural sleep medicine, but the effort begins with choosing a time to go to bed, and choosing a time to wake up. Sounds really easy, right?
Your circadian rhythm prefers it when you have a consistent sleep schedule, and part of that comes with giving yourself a bedtime – no matter your age. Your sleep quality will improve with time once you begin to implement a sleep routine, and eventually it’ll become second nature!
Don’t eat too close to bedtime
Your body’s digestive process consumes a lot of energy, meaning that eating too close to bedtime can be difficult as your body will be wired and working hard to digest whatever meal you last consumed. It’s not a bad thing if you already have a healthy sleep wake cycle, but for those who are trying to improve their sleep quality, you’re better off ditching the late night snack.
If you are hungry before bed, try to either eat more three hours before you go to sleep or have something light that won’t take too much effort for your body.
Try a better sleep environment
Background noise is fine, but too much could be interfering with your sleep schedule. Noisy environments can contribute to restlessness during the time that you’re sleeping – including twitching, shifting, etc. Your internal clock can get disrupted if you wake up frequently, even if you find you haven’t woken all the way. Try to find a dark, quiet place to fall asleep in,
Fixing your sleep schedule isn’t easy
Your body wants to regulate itself, and your circadian rhythm can easily get thrown off course when you disrupt your sleep routine. If these rhythms are off, you might have noticed you’re unable to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when the sun rises. You may also feel sleepy throughout the day, groggy, and irritable. These are clear indicators that you may be sleep deprived, and it’s time to fix your sleep schedule.
Sleep disorders exist as well. If you are suffering from memory loss, depression, weight gain, or nausea, it might be time to consult a physician or discuss with a certified sleep coach how to reset your sleep schedule or consider medication.