*This article is for general information only and is not intended to be medical advice. Consult your physician before taking any supplements, beginning any diet or fitness plan, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.
Have you ever noticed that you tend to wake up at the same time when you are able to wake up naturally? You may also notice that you get tired around the same time every night.
Your body’s internal clock instinctively knows when it’s time for sleep and when it’s time to wake. This 24-hour sleep/wake cycle is called circadian rhythm.
Plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria all operate on a circadian rhythm and are often modulated by external cues like sunlight and temperature. For adult humans, this stimuli is light, so our circadian rhythms tend to follow the 24-hour light/dark cycle of the Earth’s rotation.
Your circadian rhythm impacts not only your sleep schedule but how productive and focused you are throughout the day. However, your external environment and how well you take care of yourself can cause this rhythm to go out of balance. This can also happen when you travel or if you stray from your everyday schedule.
Since disruption can result in negative consequences to your health and well-being, you should work to ensure your circadian rhythm is balanced. Here we’ll cover some ways to reset your sleep schedule if you feel like your rhythm is off.
Until artificial lighting was invented, most people awoke with the sun and fell asleep when it got dark naturally. Now that our evenings are artificially illuminated, we tend to stay up later than we probably should. Consequently, many people block out the morning sun with blackout curtains and shutters, further separating themselves from the sun’s natural patterns.
If you’re trying to reset your sleep schedule, you should consider letting the morning sun in. Sunlight can trigger a daily reset for your circadian clock and acts as a natural cue for when to wake up. Over time, your internal clock should sync up with this cue and make waking up with the sun a breeze.
Tip: Go to bed soon after the sun sets and open the curtains for morning sunlight.
Studies show that regular exercise promotes a healthy sleep schedule and helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Research also shows that poor sleep can contribute to lower physical activity levels as well, which can create an unhealthy cycle.
Break out of that cycle by ensuring you have plenty of activity in your day. The same study showed that “morning people” are more physically active during the day. Using that logic, regular morning workouts should help you lead more active days and sleep better at night!
Tip: Regular morning workouts will lead to more active days and better sleep.
Your body won’t be able to handle a sudden shift in your sleep routine. If you are trying to adjust your sleep schedule or you know you will be changing your wake-up hours dramatically, plan ahead and adjust your schedule gradually, moving toward your goal time in 15-minute increments.
For example, if your normal wake-up time is 8 AM and you need to wake up a 6:30 AM to implement your new workout routine, it will take you seven nights to adopt your new sleep schedule. If you need to make a huge shift, it might take several weeks to get fully onto your desired schedule, but your body will have an easier time doing it than if you make the change abruptly.
Tip: Adjust your schedule toward the desired wake-up time in 15-minute increments.
When you’re winding down for bed, it’s important to avoid the blue light that comes from computers and mobile devices. These visible (and invisible) light rays can have a negative impact on our circadian rhythms. Blue light can also suppress our secretion of melatonin, a hormone that controls our sleep patterns.
So if your circadian rhythm is off, try avoiding your cell phone, computer and television for two or three hours before bed. You could try reading, conversing with your significant other or a relaxing bedtime ritual instead.
Tip: Avoid your cell phone, computer and TV for two to three hours before bed.
While it can be tempting to take a nap during the day if you have the time, anyone trying to adjust their sleep schedule should avoid them. Studies show that napping is associated with shorter nighttime sleep the next night, which can throw off your internal clock.
This also starts a negative cycle, because when you’re not getting efficient sleep at night you’re more likely to nap the next day. Avoid this cycle completely by avoiding naps if you have a sensitive sleep schedule.
Tip: If you must nap, keep it to no longer than 20 minutes.
Studies show that eating food near your sleeping period correlates with negative impacts on sleep quality. Those with a healthy sleep schedule might not see a huge difference in their sleep quality when they have a late night snack, but those who are trying to regulate their sleep schedule should be wary.
Anything that disrupts your sleep is likely to throw off your internal clock, so when trying to reset your sleep schedule you should try to eat your last meal at least three hours before you’re trying to go to sleep. Avoid any large snacks after this time as well, if possible.
Tip: Eat your last meal at least three hours before you’re trying to go to sleep.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at a decent hour, try adopting a relaxing bedtime routine until you get back on track. Studies show that using relaxation techniques can help you fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep.
You can try taking a warm bath before bed, reading a relaxing book or some of the relaxation techniques outlined in the study. One technique, called progressive muscle relaxation, includes tensing and relaxing one muscle at a time until your whole body is relaxed. There is also autogenic training, which involves focusing awareness on different parts of the body and relaxing them.
Tip: Try taking a warm bath, reading a relaxing book or autogenic relaxation training.
Since natural light schedules help aid the body’s circadian rhythm, it makes sense that spending plenty of time outdoors could help restore natural cycles. This way you can wake up and fall asleep with the sun for a few days, which should help to reset your natural sleep schedule.
This may not work as well for someone who is changing their sleep habits in anticipation of a future schedule (for example, preparing for a move or a long trip), but it could work wonders for those trying to re-sync to their current daylight hours.
Tip: Sleep in a tent for a few days, falling asleep and waking up with the sun.
One of the best ways to regulate your circadian rhythm is to develop a consistent sleep schedule. There are tons of benefits to being on a consistent sleep schedule, and a healthy internal clock is one.
Sleep irregularity has been associated with difficulty falling asleep, reduced physical activity, increased daytime sleepiness, stress, depression and more. To treat sleep irregularity, behavioral psychologists prescribe consistent bedtimes and rise times to get their patients back on track.
Tip: Setting a consistent bedtime and rise time can help get you back on track.
If you are having trouble falling asleep at night, you will definitely want to avoid caffeine after lunch. This study confirms that coffee consumption interferes with sleep quality and quantity.
It’s not just coffee you should avoid, though. Many things are caffeinated, like teas, sodas, chocolate, energy waters, energy drinks and more. If anything says that it will give you energy, it’s likely caffeinated and can contribute to poor sleep.
Tip: Avoid coffee, teas, sodas, chocolate, energy waters and drinks after lunch.
Even if you think you don’t have a problem sleeping with a little background noise, it could be interfering with your sleep schedule. Noisy environments lead to increased restlessness during the time you’re sleeping — this includes twitching, moving around and shifting often between phases of sleep.
Waking frequently (even if you’re not waking up all the way) can lead to lower sleep satisfaction levels, which in turn can impact your circadian rhythm. Our advice is to find a quiet, dark room to fall asleep in.
Tip: Find a quiet, dark room to fall asleep in and avoid nighttime disturbances.
Those who need to reset their sleep schedule due to a permanent move relocation or for traveling may want to try intermittent fasting. Dr. Clifford Saper of Harvard Medical School reports that fasting for a period of 16 hours is enough to reset your internal clock.
This is because food scarcity can override our circadian rhythm. When the fast ends, your body will take note of when you take your first meal. For example, if you’re traveling to Japan, calculate when you would normally eat breakfast in Japan and start your fast 16 hours before that. When you have your first breakfast overseas your clock should reset.
Tip: Fast for 16 hours before you will eat breakfast on the first day of your new sleep/wake rhythm.
When possible, it’s very helpful to get on a work schedule that includes consistent daytime shifts. This is especially true when you’re trying to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Studies show that night shifts have negative effects on workers’ sleep. This includes sleepiness and performance impairment, putting them at risk for an injury or accident at home or on the job. While this isn’t always possible to change shifts at work, it is important to keep in mind in case shift work and resulting sleep trouble is having a profound impact on your quality of life.
Tip: When possible, try to get on a work schedule that includes consistent daytime shifts.
While trying to maintain a healthy sleep schedule, or if you’re trying to fall asleep earlier to reset your rhythm, it’s important to optimize your sleeping arrangements. This means creating a comfortable, relaxing environment in your bedroom. It also means making sure your mattress and bedding are comfortable.
Studies show that upgraded mattresses and sheets result in increased sleep quality. If you’re waking up during the night because of back discomfort or stress-related issues, a new, well-supported bed setup could work wonders.
Tip: Turn your bedroom into a cozy, relaxing paradise with soft bedding and pillows.
Your body will typically regulate its daily rhythm based on factors like light exposure, meals and exercise as well as temperature and hormone levels. These indicators help your body know when it’s time to sleep at night and when to be awake during the day.
However, these rhythms can get thrown off course, resulting in symptoms that are less than desirable. Jet lag is one example of your circadian rhythm getting disturbed by travel, but your daily rhythm can be thrown off by night shifts and sleep disorders as well.
When should you be worried that your circadian rhythm is off? You should consider rectifying your sleep schedule if you’re unable to sleep when the sun sets and wake when the sun rises. You may want to consider seeing a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
There are many things that can mess with your sleep schedule. Luckily, practicing good sleep hygiene can help get you back on track. If you remember to stick to a schedule, avoid stimulants and heavy meals before bed, and stay active during the day, you should be able to sleep better at night.
You should also make sure your sleep environment is comfortable, quiet and cool. A Casper mattress could be one step toward an improved sleep environment, because they’re built to trap heat and help you stay cool and comfortable while you’re sleeping. Set yourself up for success by choosing ultra-comfortable bedding too!