Does Having a Sleep Routine Really Matter?Habits can be tough to break, but as science shows with most behaviors, we can learn how to change through repetition and discipline. A sleep routine helps our body learn to work with us rather than against us. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and sticking to it will help your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle) adapt so you can fall asleep easier and get better quality sleep over time.
Even if you have a consistent sleep schedule, life has a way of throwing us off when we least expect it. Knowing how to fix your sleep schedule at any given moment can help prepare you ahead of time which can be the difference between feeling your best for a big event and not. Here are some sleep disruptors to watch out for:
How Can a Sleep Routine Get Thrown Off?
- Jet lag: Traveling across multiple time zones can cause your body’s internal clock to be at odds with the day-night cycle at the travel destination.
- Shift work: People who work on a nocturnal schedule have to be awake when it's dark and sleep when the sun's out, disrupting normal circadian rhythm.
- Early birds or night owls: When someone’s sleep phase is shifted forward or back several hours.
- Artificial light exposure: Our brains respond to artificial light similar to natural light, which means our phones, tablets, televisions, and computers can interfere with our natural signal to go to bed or wake up.
- No set bedtime: Sleep schedules that vary day to day or between weekdays and weekends can prevent your body from establishing a steady sleep pattern.
- Caffeine, energy drinks: Stimulants make us feel alert, but they also upset the body's ability to naturally balance sleep and wakefulness, making it more difficult to sleep when you need to.
- Stress: Many sleeping problems are tied to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. These conditions can cause the mind to race at bedtime or cause sleepiness during the day.
How to adjust your sleep scheduleIt easy to bounce back from an all-nighter when we’re young but what if you have a permanent shift that requires you to be up hours earlier than your body is ready for? These are some lifestyle tips for how to reset your sleep schedule and get on track to feeling your best.
Change Your Lifestyle
- Write down all the things that worry you in a journal. This way, you can transfer your worries from your mind to paper, leaving your thoughts quieter and better suited for falling asleep.
- Put on a sleeping mask to prevent natural light from waking you up before your set wakeup time.
During the day:
- Get a little more active. Walk or exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days.
- No naps!
- Stop or cut back on smoking and drinking alcohol. And reduce your caffeine intake.
- If you are taking any medicines, diet pills, herbs, or supplements, ask your health care provider about the effects they may have on your sleep.
- Find ways to manage stress with a licensed counselor, a friend, or a hobby.
- Learn about relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation.
- Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
Choose a set bedtime / wake up timeChoose a consistent wake and sleep time and stick to it—even on weekends. Try to stay within 20 minutes of this chosen time. Like any new habit, our internal clock needs some time to adapt to a new routine. Training your body and mind for the best time to sleep and wake up can take a little practice. Another way to make the transition easier is with the Loftie Clock. This two-phase alarm that mimics your body’s natural waking process and wakes you up gradually. Still struggling to hit your bedtime? Try gradually increasing by 15 or 30-minute increments earlier each night so that you can feel rested but you aren’t tossing and turning.
Try not to napIt may sound counterintuitive to improving sleep, but napping during the day can make it a challenge to establish an optimal sleep schedule. Long naps can cause you to feel groggy because they disrupt deep sleep and inhibit you from sleeping at bedtime, creating a vicious cycle. If you absolutely need to nap, it’s best to nap for less than 30 minutes total and before 3 p.m. so you don’t impede on your scheduled bedtime.
Avoid sleeping in
To determine your best time to wake up, pay attention to your body absent of external factors. When do you start feeling drowsy? What time do you feel alert in the morning? Get curious about your natural sleep patterns. Studies show that a consistent sleep routine can have long term health effects on metabolism, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. One study found that for every one hour of variability in sleep schedule, the risk of having metabolic syndrome rose by 27%. So try your best not to hit the “Snooze” button. It’s tempting but your body thrives on routine and sleeping in can disrupt your progress.