In an ideal world, what time would you go to bed and what time would you wake up? For some people, the existing sleep schedule may already be synchronized with their own body clock. For others, it may not fit: over 70% of adults have experienced sleep problems at least once a month, while 11% experience them every night. This is why sometimes is good to reset your sleep schedule.
Maybe you’re a shift worker or a parent who takes care of the little ones and therefore your sleep gets interrupted. Or maybe you’re someone who’s gotten into the habit of using your phone before bed. Or you’re just having trouble falling asleep again after waking up – watching videos or going down on social media.
Whatever the reason, if a consistent bedtime routine is gone, you can learn, with a little help and planning, how to reset your sleep schedule.
How your body clock works
Your body clock regulates the circadian rhythm, the internal process that governs not only your sleep-wake cycle, but also physical, mental, and behavioral changes over a 24-hour period.
Sleeping at night and waking up in the morning could be the most popular circadian rhythm. It works like this: your optic nerves send information about the received light (or lack thereof) to the part of the brain commonly called the biological clock. During the day, the light that your eyes see or perceive triggers a signal that generates vigilance. At night, melatonin is released so that you feel that sweet feeling of sleepiness.
We have two main hormones that control the circadian rhythm: melatonin and cortisol – the stress hormone. The levels of these hormones increase and decrease during the day, depending on the light, but also on other factors. Melatonin in large quantities helps you fall asleep and sleep well all night. Instead, high levels of cortisol dictate when to be alert. Normally, the highest amount of melatonin gets secreted at night, around 2:00, and the most cortisol – is in the morning, around 10:00.
Body temperature and metabolism are also part of the circadian rhythm. Specifically, body temperature drops when you sleep and rises when you wake up. The rate of metabolism also fluctuates during the day.
As we can see daylight influences us a lot, centuries ago, people slept naturally at sunset and woke up at sunrise. Going to bed early, waking up early – a circadian rhythm synchronized with natural light. (this is also a helpful way to reset your sleep schedule)
As technology is more present than ever and the distractions of today’s world are much more intense and frequent, natural sleep cycles are not so simple anymore. Yes, you can still go to bed when the sun goes down, but artificial light from a lamp or light from a telephone could confuse your circadian rhythm.
Why our sleep schedule can become unbalanced?
In medical terms, the circadian rhythm is controlled by a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, through the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is the main center for establishing sleep patterns. The circadian rhythm is also influenced by the secretion of melatonin, also called “sleep hormone”, which is produced by the epiphysis, located behind the hypothalamus.
Cyclic fluctuations in melatonin are vital for maintaining a normal circadian rhythm. When the retina detects light, melatonin production is inhibited and wakefulness occurs. Instead, when it gets dark, melatonin production begins to increase and the body prepares for sleep. And so, every 24 hours, the biological clock resets.
The modern lifestyle is not quite suitable for our biological clock. The time spent late at night in front of the screens and the days we spend in dark rooms take us away from the cycle of light and darkness in nature, disrupting the circadian rhythm.
As said, the hypothalamus is the area of the brain responsible for the functioning of this internal clock and is also essential for the proper functioning of many important processes in the body. If the circadian rhythm is affected, other functions may suffer also – from sleep to digestion or the immune system.
As we can see a reset of your sleep schedule might be an important action to take in order to have a restful sleep and a healthy body.
Here is what you can do to reset and fix your sleep schedule
You may have heard of the term sleep hygiene, which refers to creating the ideal conditions for a healthy sleep cycle and the opportunity to wake up well-rested.
Sleep hygiene refers to the routine you have during the day, as well as before bedtimes, such as the temperature of your bedroom or the time of day when you consume caffeine. An optimized environment and a well-thought-out routine can play an important role in your ability to reset your body clock. Ideal sleep hygiene can prepare the scene to be more focused during the day and more relaxed at night. Signs of poor sleep hygiene include fatigue and brain fog, two conditions that can discourage you from resetting your sleep schedule.
1. Create a bright environment during the day and a dark one at night
You will have many health benefits if you expose yourself to a lot of light during the day and choose to let the night be dark in your environment.
Because we are constantly surrounded by technology and artificial light, we must pay special attention to this factor. Choosing the right light in your home is a good long-term investment. Make sure you have two light sources in each room, one strong and one low. For example, in the bedroom, you can have the main light bulb, which produces a lot of light, and a lamp on the bedside table, with low light. During the day use intense light (if needed), and in the evening choose a light with less intensity.
In this way, you can reset your sleep schedule by imitating the natural pattern of light. This will give you a more restful sleep at night and more energy during the day.
2. Try to create a routine
The circadian rhythm of the brain is the “conductor of the orchestra”, but it is not the only inner clock we have.
Most organs, from the liver to the kidneys and pancreas, include their own biological clocks. And the best way to help them function properly is to persevere in a program. Eating, exercising, going to bed, and waking up at the same time every day helps the whole body to function better.
Also avoid stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, and alcohol a few hours before bedtime.
3. Adopting an organized lifestyle can help you reset your sleep schedule
One of the key pillars of a sleep reset program is waking up at the same time each day. Your body’s watch likes to run, well, like a watch. So that means no lies on weekends and no postponement during the week. But remember, nothing happens overnight. Be patient with yourself and know that adjustments become easier when the circadian rhythm becomes balanced. You can adjust your bedtime in 15-minute increments every 2-3 days. Therefore, if you normally get stuck around 1 a.m., try targeting 12:45 a.m., then 12:30 p.m., and so on. This is maybe the most effective way to reset your sleep schedule.
4. Avoid screens three hours before bedtime
You can train your internal clock even better by limiting the use of technology after sunset.
Screens, especially those we keep close to our faces, such as our phones or laptop, produce blue light, which transmits to the brain that it is daylight and that it needs to be awake and alert.
If it is necessary to use these devices, the specialist recommends setting a lower screen light. But it is preferable to completely give up screens two or three hours before bedtime.
“Natural melatonin levels start to rise about two hours before bedtime. If you see the light during this time, the melatonin level decreases and it transmits to the brain that it is daytime “, says the specialist.
So listen to your body and get off the phone or device and start taking the needed steps in order to reset your sleep schedule.
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