How Does a Sleep Routine Get Thrown Off?
- Jet lag: Associated with rapid traveling across multiple time zones, jet lag occurs when the body’s internal clock is at odds with the day-night cycle at the travel destination.
- Shift work: People who work night shifts have to be awake when it’s dark and sleep when the sun’s out, disrupting normal circadian synchronization.
- Advanced or delayed sleep timing: Some people are extreme “early birds” or “night owls,” meaning that their sleep timing, also known as their sleep phase, is shifted forward or back by several hours.
- Artificial light exposure: Biologically, the circadian rhythm developed to correspond to sunlight long before electricity was invented. However, the brain responds to artificial light as well, which means that constant exposure to indoor lighting as well as electronic devices like cell phones, tablets, televisions, and computers can interfere with typical signals that convey whether it’s day or night.
- Fluctuating sleep hours: Many people have no set bedtime or wake-up time. Their sleep schedule can swing wildly back and forth from one day to the next or between weekdays and weekends, which prevents establishing a steady sleep pattern.
- Behavior choices: Deciding to stay up late or wake up early to study, play sports, or take part in social activities can throw off normal sleep routines.
- Caffeine and energy drinks: Stimulants may help you feel alert, but they can upset the body’s ability to naturally balance sleep and wakefulness, making it more difficult to sleep when you need to.
- Stress and emotional difficulties: Many sleeping problems are tied to stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional or mental health problems. These conditions can cause the mind to race when it’s time for sleep or cause sleepiness during the day when you should be awake, foiling hopes of a consistent and healthy sleep routine.
Adjusting your sleep routine starts by making consistency a priority. Habits and routines are powerful precisely because they are repeated over and over again in order to create a pattern.
A key first step is to reset your sleep schedule. Pick a bedtime and wake-up time that you can stick with and that offer ample time for the sleep you need. Follow this schedule every day, even on weekends.
In order to gradually adjust to a new sleep schedule, you can make adjustments in 15 or 30 minute increments over a series of days. You can also focus first on the wake-up time, creating one fixed part of your schedule, and then use the tips described below to modify your sleep habits so that you can incrementally get used to falling asleep at your scheduled bedtime.
What Is the Ideal Time To Go To Bed and Wake-Up?
There is no single ideal time for going to bed and waking up that is best for everyone. In general, in order to synchronize your circadian rhythm, you should try to wake up around the start of daylight hours and wind down and get ready for bed when it gets dark in the evening.
That said, daylight hours can vary significantly based on your geographic location, and for many people, it’s impractical to follow a sleep schedule that strictly follows the day-night cycle. For that reason, the general principles to follow are that your bedtime and wake-up time should:
What Are the Best Tips for Resetting Your Sleep Routine?
Sleep hygiene plays an essential role in making your sleep routine effective. One fundamental part of sleep hygiene is ensuring that your daily habits and sleep environment are conducive to sleep and work in your favor:
- Get a daily dose of natural light: Because daylight is a vital influence on your circadian rhythm, exposure to natural light can promote better synchronization of your internal clock.
- Reduce artificial lighting at night: Keeping your lights on long into the evening can prevent your body from properly transitioning toward sleep. Try using a dimmer or low-wattage lamp to minimize the brightness of indoor lighting.
- Cut down on evening screen time: Cell phones and other devices are sources of excess mental stimulation and emit blue light that can affect circadian timing. To avoid the negative effects of screen time on sleep, try not to use your phone, tablet, or laptop for at least an hour before bed.
- Commit to physical activity: Regular exercise is good not only for your cardiovascular health but also for your sleep. You don’t have to be a triathlete to get these benefits; even mild physical activity like going for a walk can be beneficial, and it’s a great opportunity to get daylight exposure. If you are going to do intense exercise, try to finish your workout at least an hour before bed.
- Have a bedtime routine: Consistent cues can play a powerful psychological role in routines. For this reason, try to follow the same steps each night before going to bed such as dimming the lights, quietly reading or stretching, putting on pajamas, and brushing your teeth. Over time, those actions become cues that tell you that it’s time for sleep.
- Develop a personal relaxation plan: Being able to relax both mentally and physically is a major contributor to falling asleep easily. Regardless of whether it’s meditation, yoga, listening to soothing music, reading, or another activity, make time in your bedtime routine for whatever relaxation method that allows you to wind down.
- Be careful with naps: There are times during the day when your energy level dips and you may be tempted to nap. While naps can be restorative in some cases, they can disrupt your sleep routine if you’re not careful. As a general rule, try to keep naps under 30 minutes and only early in the afternoon so that they don’t make it harder to get to sleep at night.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: Both alcohol and caffeine can be detrimental to a healthy sleep routine. Alcohol makes you sleepy but affects your sleep cycle, making you prone to awakenings and lower-quality sleep as the night goes on. Caffeine makes you wired and alert and can linger in your system, frustrating attempts to fall asleep at bedtime. As a result, it’s best to eliminate or reduce consumption of alcohol and caffeine, especially in the late afternoon and evening.
- Cultivate an inviting sleep environment: You want your bedroom to be quiet and dark to avoid disruptions. A cool yet comfortable temperature and soothing smells, like lavender, may promote relaxation and provide cues for sleep. Finding the best mattress, best pillow, and bedding can make your bedroom a haven for comfort and rest.
Why Our Sleep Schedules Get Off Track
Because our body clocks, which control our sleep schedules, are sensitive to light, things like how much sunlight we’re exposed to throughout the day and what types of light we’re exposed to at night affect our sleep schedules.
Additionally, things like traveling across time zones or staying up a lot later than usual can throw off sleep patterns, because we’re asking our bodies to sleep at different times than our bodies’ internal clocks are telling us to sleep.
Similarly, people who do rotating shift work, such as overnight workers or truck drivers — who aren’t able to stick to a consistent sleep schedule — tend to have difficulty with sleep because their body clocks run on a different schedule than they’re allowing their bodies to follow.
It’s problematic, not only because having a misaligned body clock and sleep schedule on a day-to-day basis can result in poor sleep quality (and you not getting the sleep you need), but over time, that misalignment has been found to be linked to several chronic health problems, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder, among others.
Having a severely misaligned body clock and sleep schedule is itself considered a sleep disorder. About 1 percent of adults have advanced sleep phase disorder, meaning they go to bed early, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and wake up early, between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Others, especially younger people, may experience the opposite: delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), or going to bed extremely late and waking up late. It’s estimated to affect as many as 15 percent of teenagers.
“DSPS is a circadian rhythm disorder associated with an inability to fall asleep at the individual’s desired time [typically several hours later] and an inability to wake up at the desired time,” says Dr. Zozula. “Due to the individual’s daytime obligations, a person with DSPS may be forced to wake up earlier and go against their natural circadian tendency.” This can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, poor performance, and depression.
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Alicia Roth, PhD, DBSM is a Clinical Health Psychologist & Staff at the Cleveland Clinic, where she specializes in Behavioral Sleep Medicine. She completed her doctoral training at the University of Florida, .
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You’ve been lying in bed all night, tossing and turning instead of getting the restorative sleep you need. You worry about the day ahead and how you’ll get through it on so little sleep. Being sleep deprived is no fun. It’s also dangerous.
When you have disruptions in your sleep schedule, you can experience sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just mean going a full night without sleep. It means you’re not getting enough sleep in general.
Even if you’re a new parent, nurse, paramedic, or someone with an unpredictable schedule, there are adjustments you can make. Don’t try to make all the suggested changes in one night. Instead, start with one new habit at a time. Work on it for at least a couple of weeks until it becomes part of your everyday practice. Then you can add another positive sleep habit. This is called sleep hygiene.
How to reset your sleep schedule:
If you’re trying to improve your sleep hygiene but don’t know where to start, try working your way through this list of proven tactics before moving on to other resources available to you.
Taking time to wind down in the hours leading up to sleep is indeed important. But often people who are experiencing disruptions to their sleep routine are in the midst of an overbearing schedule that extends throughout the entire day and into the evening. If you’re having trouble staying asleep at night, it may be due to a condition known as hyperarousal, explains Jade Wu, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.
“It’s basically because your body and mind are too revved up,” she says. “The problem may be what you’re doing, or failing to do, during the day. You must make sure you have time to rest, instead of being on the go all day long.”
Being busy, either physically or through mental exhaustion, is an easy way to tire yourself out — but if you’re not building in periods of time to allow yourself to rest, this may lead to disrupted sleep functions later in the evening. This is especially true for people who are working right up until their bedtime; simply shutting off a computer or stopping chores and making a beeline for a dark bedroom doesn’t ensure immediate sleep.
Sleep habits extend beyond bedtime. Meal timing has been shown to regulate our body’s internal clock, the circadian rhythm. Try to keep a regular meal schedule and follow it as best as possible to help your body stay on track. Along with eating well, it’s best to plan your dinner for early in the evening. This is especially true if the meal is a heavy one as our bodies take longer to digest, disrupting our sleep at night. Late night cups of coffee and alcohol can disrupt and delay the process of resetting your sleep schedule, so keep in mind what you drink as well.
If your sleep troubles continue, it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist to find out whether there might be underlying issues that could be addressed.
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