Do you find yourself tossing and turning in bed at night, only to wake up the next morning feeling tired and drained out? If so, you may have disrupted the circadian rhythm that directs the sleep-wake cycle in your body. Don’t you worry though, because we have just the solution you’re looking for on how to fix sleep schedule.
It is a process and it does take time to reset sleep schedules, but it is not impossible. Give these methods a go and before you know it, you’ll be bidding adieu to all your sleep problems.
But before we look into how to fix sleep schedules, let us first understand the mechanism in our body that controls our sleeping patterns, i.e., the circadian rhythm, and what are the factors that affect this rhythm.
What Is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythms are cycles that take place in the body approximately across 24 hours. These rhythms take place throughout the day and occur even in plants and animals.
In humans, these rhythms regulate the changes in the physical and mental states of the body and also the behavioral and mood changes.
The most well-known circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle. This cycle is what makes us feel sleepy and tired during the night and active during the day.
How Does the Circadian Rhythm Work?
Think of the tissues and organs as having their own individual clock. They actually do. Almost every tissue and organ in our body has its own biological clock. This is due to the proteins that interact with the cells in our body, directing them on when to be active or when to slow down.
To control the biological clocks of all these tissues and organs, there is a master clock. In humans, this master clock is the suprachiasmatic nucleus, also known as SCN.
The SCN contains about 20,000 nerve cells and coordinates directly with the inputs it receives from the eyes.
Whenever SCN receives bright light or darkness from the eyes, it directs the cells to act in accordance to it. So light keeps the circadian rhythm running parallel to the 24-hour cycles of the day.
Another interesting fact is that the chemicals in the brain also adjust according to the cycles of the day. These chemicals regulate many factors in the body such as temperature, mood, hunger, arousal, and wakefulness.
How Does the Circadian Rhythm Influence Your Sleep Schedule?
The circadian rhythms orchestrate the sleep-wake cycle in our body. They affect our sleep because of how our brain and body respond to darkness and light.
When it gets dark, the body’s clock directs the cells to slow down, which is what makes us feel tired and sleepy.
Also when its dark, a hormone called melatonin is released and starts to rise which induces sleep in our body.
This sleep hormone reaches its peak around 2 A.M. to 4 A.M. and gradually decreases by morning which is why we become more awake by then.
Hence resetting your circadian rhythm is the answer to how to fix sleep schedule.
Factors That Will Wreak Havoc on Your Sleep Schedule
Sleep deprivation or sleep disorders don’t just happen out of the blue. It is the little small decisions we make every day that decides how efficiently or how poorly our sleep hygiene is being maintained.
Many a time we also tend to correlate the amount of time we sleep to our quality of sleep i.e., the longer the better.
Although that may be true to some extent, sleep quality depends on many other criteria as well such as sleeping without waking up often, the amount of deep sleep one gets, and so on.
Lack of proper sleep has a lot of adverse effects on your health and so it needs to be dealt with at the earliest.
There are so many factors affecting sleep, some obvious and some not so much, which are responsible for guiding the circadian rhythm. Let us look at some of these factors so that we can know how to fix sleep schedule.
1. Jet Lag
Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem and it can affect anyone who travels over multiple time zones quickly. This happens because your body’s internal clock gets out of sync as it enters a new time zone and tries to adjust with it.
It takes a few days for your body to get adjusted to the new cycle because in doing so, you are asking the body to sleep at a different schedule than what it is accustomed to.
You are also more likely to experience jet lag, the more time zones you cross.
2. Night Shifts
People working night shifts are required to stay awake during the night when it’s dark and sleep during the day when daylight is optimum.
This is contrary to the normal sleep schedule and is likely to obstruct the circadian rhythm as the circadian rhythm is designed to synchronize with the sunlight such that we stay awake and active during the day and our body shuts down to sleep as it gets dark.
3. Exposure to Light
Our biological clock is influenced by light exposure. Hence if you are waking up earlier or later than normal then it is likely that your brain isn’t receiving morning light to produce alert signals at your usual time.
This will subsequently result in knocking your biological clock off track and shifting your sleep schedule.
In the early days, before artificial light was discovered, man’s biological clock was in sync with natural light. With the advent of technology, we are constantly surrounded by artificial light, and our brain responds to artificial light as well.
The indoor lights, and even light coming from cellphones, tablets, and computer screen greatly affects the internal clock and interferes with the natural sleep routine.
Exposing yourself to artificial light too close to bedtime will prevent you from feeling sleepy as it will inhibit the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
4. Social Jetlag
There is a condition called social jetlag. It is due to the misalignment in your social and biological clock leading to inconsistent sleep patterns.
We generally tend to stay up late during the weekends and sleep in the next day, and as we step into Monday, we wake up early again, leading to an abrupt change in the sleep cycle.
This inconsistency in sleep and wake cycles eventually disrupts the sleep schedule and the internal clock.
5. Delaying Bedtime
We all at some point in time, if not often, have delayed our bedtime routine, which is detrimental to our sleep schedule.
Although there isn’t anything major that is keeping us up, we tend to put off our sleep time simply by indulging in various activities like consuming media and being occupied with our electronic devices.
By gradually delaying bedtime, we are setting our internal clock to a different sleep pattern and before we know it, we stray away too far from the normal sleep routine.
6. Fluctuating Sleep Timings
Not having a proper time to sleep and wake up can also lead to the disruption of sleep schedules.
Sudden large fluctuations in bedtime and wake-up time will only make things worse if you are trying to establish a steady sleep pattern.
So dilly-dallying with your bedtime routine is not the answer to how to fix your sleep schedule.
7. Caffeine Beverages
We all know what caffeine does to the body. Although taking a cup of caffeine beverage induces wakefulness in the morning and throughout the day, taking too much of it, especially close to your bedtime, will keep you from sleeping.
Apart from caffeine beverages, energy drinks will also keep you alert and active and mess up your body’s natural ability to balance your sleep schedule.
8. Stress and Emotional Distress
Many times, stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues also affect your sleep. It is difficult to fall asleep when your mind is cluttered with too many thoughts.
Also not getting proper sleep at night will keep you tired the next day and this pattern will make it harder to achieve good sleep hygiene.
How to Fix Sleep Schedule
So you’ve read the factors that affect your sleep-wake cycle and yes there are quite a lot of factors in the list. But fear not, because there are even more means and ways to tackle these factors to help reset your sleep schedule.
So why delay any longer? Let us look into the methods or ways which will turn back the hands of time of your body clock.
1. Be Consistent With Your Sleep Schedule
Consistency is of utmost importance if you are wondering how to fix your sleep schedule. It is important to note that even after your sleep schedule is fixed, you should maintain consistency to avoid disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm.
Set a target sleep schedule and slowly take steps towards it. Do not drastically change your timings in an attempt to achieve the target sooner. Resetting your sleep schedule takes time.
It is advisable to gradually shift your sleeping patterns. For example, if your target is to sleep earlier, start by sleeping 15 to 30 minutes earlier for a few days till your circadian clock gets accustomed to the new sleep pattern.
Once the clock is readjusted to the new pattern, sleep 15-30 minutes earlier again for some days. Keep this up until you reach your target.
Make sure that you maintain this consistency even during the weekends because a consistent sleep schedule is a key to getting out of this problem.
2. Soak Up the Morning Sun
The morning sun is just what you need if you’re looking at how to fix sleep schedule. It is the driving force that guides the circadian rhythm of your body.
You should consider keeping the blinds open in your room to let the morning sun in. Sunlight acts as a natural signal that prompts your body to wake up.
As you consistently follow up with this, over time your body will gradually align itself to run parallel with the morning sun and you will naturally find it easier to wake up with the sun.
So make sure to go to bed early and keep the blackout curtains open to welcome the morning sun in.
It is not a surprise that we constantly hear about how important and necessary exercise is for our body. Besides your cardiovascular health, exercise is just as much a requirement for healthy sleep.
So if you want to work on how to fix sleep schedule, you need to work on getting some exercise.
The more active our body is during the day, the easier it will be to fall asleep at night. It doesn’t necessarily have to be strenuous exercises. Even mild activities like taking a walk or doing chores will be of great help in maintaining good sleep hygiene.
Furthermore, being active during the day will also help you get more exposure to daylight which is a plus point you can add to your list of ‘how to fix sleep schedule’.
However, there is one thing to remember when it comes to exercise, i.e., make sure you don’t exercise too close to your bedtime. This will do more damage than good to your sleep schedule.
So get a good workout but make sure to wrap it up early in the evening so that you get an ample amount of time to relax and prepare for sleep.
4. Avoid Taking Naps
Although taking naps may seem genuinely harmless, it is advisable to avoid them as taking naps during the day will shorten your sleep at night, which will make you sleepy the next day and only make you require more naps.
Hence to get out of this cycle, avoid taking naps altogether. If you need a quick recharge, power naps are recommended but for not more than 20 to 30 minutes.
Make sure that the power nap is early in the noon and not during the evenings or close to bedtime as it will make falling asleep at night even harder.
If you find your energy levels dipping during the day, try doing some physical activities to make you feel awake and avoid naps.
5. Avoid Large Meals Before Bed
Eating large meals just before bedtime could lead to lower sleep quality. Although people who have a healthy sleep schedule may not see much of a difference by having a light snack, if you are someone who is trying to reset your sleep schedule, you should be wary of eating large meals or even a light snack close to bedtime.
Anything that disturbs your sleep is likely to misalign your internal clock. Hence if you are focusing on how to fix your sleep schedule, try to finish off your meals at least 3 hours before your bedtime.
6. Avoid Certain Types of Food Before Bed.
Although light snacks do not generally cause much of a problem for people having healthy sleep schedules, there are certain foods that could easily disrupt your sleep and so they must be avoided if you want to work on how to fix your sleep schedule.
Avoid taking any kind of beverage that has caffeine in it as it is a stimulant and can make falling asleep a chore. It can easily reduce the amount of sleep you get and thwart your target towards how to fix your sleep schedule.
It is also known to reduce the amount of deep sleep you get, leading to a much lower quality of sleep. Hence it is best to limit caffeine.
Alcohol, though sleep-inducing, affects your sleep cycle as it tends you make you wake up often in between your sleep, thus making it difficult to get high-quality sleep. Hence it is advisable to eliminate alcohol or consume it before evening.
Snacks that are high in sugar also tend to cause spikes in sugar and hence should be avoided before bed. It is also best to avoid spicy and acidic food also as it leads to acid reflux.
Therefore, it is best to avoid consuming these foods close to your bedtime if you are working on how to fix sleep schedule.
7. Avoid Blue Light Before Bedtime
In this day and age, it has become almost impossible to stay away from our devices but it is important to know the negative impacts it has on our sleep schedule.
Our circadian rhythm is sensitive to light exposure and hence even the blue light that is emitted by devices such as laptops and cell phones can alter its functioning.
What blue light does is that it inhibits the production of melatonin which is responsible for inducing sleep and controlling our sleeping patterns.
Blue light-blocking glasses are one way to tackle the issue but being occupied with electronic devices also causes excess mental stimulation, making it difficult to fall asleep.
So staying away from these devices at least two to three hours before bedtime is crucial if you are looking at how to fix sleep schedule.
8. Create the Right Environment for Sleep
Your sleep environment plays a very important role in preparing you mentally and physically to retire to sleep. So if you are questioning how to fix sleep schedule and your sleep-wake cycle then the answer is to put some effort into creating the right sleep environment.
First thing’s first, reducing artificial light during evenings will set the mood and help you feel sleepy. It will also aid in the production of melatonin, which is exactly what you need to reset your circadian clock.
Your body temperature is known to drop naturally during sleep. So adjusting the temperature of the external environment to suit this biological change will help you get better sleep.
Another important thing to remember is to maintain a quiet environment to help your mind and body relax. This will help you get a restful sleep.
Having a relaxing bedtime routine like taking a warm bath, meditating, and stretching will definitely help you sleep faster and improve your chances to restore the natural cycles of your internal clock.
So remember to maintain a relaxing bedtime ritual, read a good book, stretch and relax your tensed muscles and you are sure to fall asleep in no time.
I know you must be surprised to see camping on the list. What a fun way to reach your target towards how to fix sleep schedule, isn’t it?
Well, it’s only natural that staying outdoors will leave you exposed to natural daylight, and light exposure and synchronizing with the natural light schedules is a great way to reset your circadian clock and beat sleep disorders.
A study found that participants who spent a week camping with no electricity, cell phones, and other such devices were able to greatly improve their body’s internal clock by synchronizing with the solar time.
In other words, they were able to sleep earlier and wake up earlier parallel to the sun rising and setting. This result was also more prominent in participants who initially slept very late in the night or were much more active at night, i.e., night owls.
So if you have trouble falling asleep and are looking for ways how to fix sleep schedule, then consider packing your bags and going on a camping trip.
10. Take Gradual Steps and Be Patient
Last but not the least, take gradual steps and be patient with the process. Making drastic changes will only prove to be counterproductive as your body will not be able to adjust to such drastic shifts.
So taking gradual steps will give permanent results as your body learns to take roots in the new sleep schedule. It is also gentle on your mental health as trying to make dramatic changes will put much pressure on your health physically and mentally.
How Long Will It Take to Reset Your Clock?
It really just depends on what is causing your sleep to go off track. If you are trying to adjust your sleep schedule due to a change in time zone then it takes about a day for every time zone change.
However, if it is a very long trip then it could even take up to 2 weeks to adjust your body to the new time zone.
If you are someone who is dealing with delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) and you’re wondering how to fix sleep schedule, then you should know that the amount of time required to reset your sleep will depend on how long you’ve been astray. So give yourself about a month or two to get back on track.
Changing your sleep schedule may be a little difficult if you have a condition like DSPS but it is not impossible. With a little perseverance and consistent effort, it can be done.
Do not get upset or give up in between as it will only make it more difficult to achieve the goal. Maintain discipline and being patient, that is key how to fixing sleep schedule.
Content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. Reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students.