For many, it is typically to feel sleepy and go to bed at around the same time each night. With folks that follow such regular snooze timing, the consistency generally also extends to wake times, too, as they often report getting up at almost the same time each morning too.
However, all it takes is some night shift work, jet lag, or an episode of anxiety-induced insomnia to throw your sleep schedule out of whack.
but over time, that misalignment is linked to several chronic health problems, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder, among others.
If you are battling a sleep schedule that is off-center and you find yourself going to bed at 1 a.m. each night, it may be time for a hard reset. The good news is a few minor new habits can help to realign your sleep schedule quickly and get you back to sleeping like a baby in no time.
How Sleep Schedules Work
Our bodies follow consistent sleep schedules because of a regulatory network of systems known as circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm (sleep clock) is a web of biological mechanisms that manage the body’s cycles of tiredness and wakefulness, which roughly matches a 24-hour schedule.
These systems draw data from a host of body processes, including hormonal secretions and brain function, patterns in our physical and mental states. Furthermore, circadian rhythms also pull data from external factors like exposure to light and darkness, and environmental temperature to help ensure you go to bed and wake up at the right time each day.
Consequently, the baseline sleep schedule may vary from person to person depending on their natural environments and genetics predispositions.
However, since the circadian rhythms also factor in behavioral inputs, changes in your behavior like pulling all-nighters, or staying up for two more episodes of a Netflix show can mess with your sleep schedule and throw it into chaos.
One of the most critical factors that affects the alignment of our body clocks is the amount of exposure we get to light and darkness, as the system initially evolved to align with the rise and set of the sun.
8 Tips for Resetting Your Sleep Schedule
1. Lighting is Key
While scientists do not know all the intricate details on how our circadian rhythms work, one thing or agree on is that your exposure to light and darkness is one of the most critical factors.
The presence of light stimulates the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter that promotes arousal and wakefulness, while prolonged exposure to darkness encourages the release of serotonin, the sleep hormone.
Hence, one of the most effective ways to reset your sleep schedule is to manipulate the amount and timing of light you get each day.
A good run of thumb is to follow the earth’s natural light cycles and expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible at sunrise. Alternatively, you can simulate the effects of the sun by using bright lights to promote wakefulness both in the morning time and throughout the rest of the day.
On the other hand, at night time, you want to stay away from bright lights as much as possible. Avoid fluorescents and LEDs, too, as these are notorious for emitting blue light and messing with the circadian rhythms.
To further enhance sleepiness, you can simulate sunset by progressively dimming your home lights from late evening until sleep time.
2. Cut Out the Blue Light
When trying to reset your sleep schedule, blue light is your worst enemy. For many, excessive exposure to blue light is why we have a messed up sleep schedule in the first place.
Blue light devices emit a frequency that is similar to sunlight, and hence, they can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime, even when it’s dead of night. Plus, today, evading blue light is quite the tasking venture as blue light-emitting devices include everything from phones, laptops, television, to LED bulbs.
To significantly increase your chances of regaining a healthy sleep schedule, you must cut out blue light exposure as much as you can, especially around evening time. Even better is if you can cut all device use at least a couple of hours before your new bedtime.
Furthermore, consider setting all your devices to automatically switch to night mode in the evenings or download a blue-light-blocking app like F.lux.
3. No Naps
While a mid-afternoon nap is excellent for relieving tiredness and boosting your mood, it can be the bane of your attempted sleep schedule reset. For the first few days, maybe weeks, of your reset attempt, avoid naps, even when you feel tired.
Tip: An excellent way to counteract daytime sleepiness is with a short bout of exercise.
4. Regularize Your Wake Up Times
During your sleep schedule reset, you may persistently wake up feeling tired, as your body is still adjusting to your new wake up time. However, you must stay consistent with the set wake time and avoid hitting the snooze button.
5. Pull An All-Nighter
One hack to forcing on the new sleep schedule is to jolt your body clock by pulling an all-nighter, or all-dayer. While this brute strategy may leave you sleep-deprived and tired for an extended time, it is one of the fastest ways to get your circadian rhythms in sync.
When implementing this, ensure that you stay awake until your new prospective sleep time and then start the new schedule.
However, due to the excessive sleep deprivation that this method entails, you should practice it under the watchful eyes of a health practitioner. Furthermore, while in your sleep-deprived state, steer clear of driving, operating heavy machinery, or any other potentially dangerous activities.
6. Try Fasting
Another critical factor that affects our circadian rhythms is food. Digestion and metabolic processes can significantly impact our sleep-wake cycles, and as such, can help reset your sleep schedule.
In one Harvard study, researchers discovered that the circadian rhythms in animals are directly linked with the availability of food. Hence, manipulating your eating habits can be useful for resetting your sleep clock.
Based on their findings, these researchers recommend a 16-hour fast setup to align with your new eating and sleeping schedule. Taking a small breakfast at wake time and eating dinner a few hours before your new bedtime can help cement the new sleep schedule.
7. Try Camping
Another potentially helpful remedy is to go camping. Spending time in nature and the outdoors are excellent ways to restore your body’s natural rhythms. Immersing yourself in natural sounds and lighting provides one of the best ways to synchronize your biological clocks with the sun and the rest of the natural environment.
Tip: For maximum impact, go camping without smartphones, laptops, and minimal electrical lighting.
8. Adjust Your Bedtime Gradually
Irrespective of how many hacks you implement to help restore your sleep cycles, you must keep it in mind that resetting your sleep schedule is a gradual process.
The reason why we get jet lags is that your body can’t cope with massive changes in your sleep routine. Hence, avoid switching your sleep time from 2 a.m. to 8 p.m. as this can have drastic consequences on your well being.
A better way to reset your sleep schedule is to opt instead for smaller 30-minute or 1-hour daily shifts until you achieve the sleep time you want.
How Long will Your Sleep Schedule Reset Take?
For minor misalignments, three or four nights is often enough for the new schedule to start to set. However, in extreme cases, you may need several weeks of progressive changes to correct your sleep clock.
Can you catch up on sleep?
No, you can’t. While getting extra sleep may seem like a logical way to make up for lost sleep, according to a recent study at Harvard Medical School highlights the fact that recouping lost sleep is nearly impossible.