How to Reset Your Sleep Routine (Step By Step)
Do you often have a hard time falling asleep at night and find it even harder to wake up in the morning when your alarm goes off? Are you struggling with sleepiness during the day and a lack of energy to carry out your daily routine? If so, then you might be battling an out-of-whack sleep-wake cycle.
Each of us operates on a central biological schedule that plays a vital role in when we feel awake and tired. When the internal sleep clock (circadian rhythm) functions normally, it signals the body to shut down at night and wake up in the morning. This means you'll have no trouble falling asleep and getting the quality sleep your body needs.
However, modern life sometimes messes up the sleep clock, thus throwing your normal sleep schedule out of whack. For instance, most youths are now engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination, thanks to advancements in technology (use of electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptops). This can make it quite hard to fall asleep and wake up in the morning at the right time. It can also affect your overall sleep quality, leaving you sleep-deprived.
No need to battle with groggy days and sleepless nights anymore. This article will cover everything you need to know about your sleep clock, including how it works, the things that can disrupt it, and how you can get it back on track for better sleep. Read on!
Sleep Science: Understanding How Your Sleep Clock Works
Getting your head around the science behind sleep makes it much easier to develop healthy nocturnal habits and fix your sleep schedule. Your circadian rhythm generally regulates sleep by helping you adapt to various changes in your external environment.
Here's how it works:
During the day
Once your optic nerves perceive natural or artificial light, they send information about the incoming light to your circadian rhythm. This triggers the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) to release circadian-alerting signals.
The SCN is located in the hypothalamus, and it plays a significant role in nearly everything your circadian rhythm is involved in, including controlling your sleep-wake cycle as well as the energy fluctuations during the day. The circadian-alerting signals will keep increasing gradually throughout the day, save for the temporary energy dip that usually occurs in the afternoon.
When your eyes are exposed to dim light or darkness, the circadian signals start losing their intensity steadily, and you'll begin to feel less alert and energetic. Meanwhile, your brain responds by telling your pineal gland to secrete melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, 2-3 hours before your body starts preparing you for sleep.
In this way, your circadian rhythm aligns your wakefulness and sleep with day and night to create a stable sleep-wake cycle that enables increased daytime activity.
Why Do Sleep Schedules Get Off Track?
The internal mechanisms that control the sleep-wake cycle make up an exceptional system. However, various internal and external factors can drastically influence the balance in the almost ceaseless sleep-wake system.
For instance, changes in the function and structure of your brain during growth can have intense, if gradual, effects on your sleep patterns. Generally, the amount of sleep you receive decreases and becomes more fragmented with age. External factors, such as the environment in which you sleep, what you eat and drink, and the medications you take can also greatly affect your sleep schedule.
Other factors include:
Light is one of the most central external factors that can influence sleep. It can affect your sleep in two ways;
- Directly. By making it hard for you to fall asleep
- Indirectly. By influencing your circadian rhythm's timing, thus affecting your preferred time to sleep.
Thanks to the invention of electric light bulbs in the late 1870s, most people are now exposed to more light during the night. This relatively new pattern is almost certain to have influenced our sleep patterns. Exposure to artificial bright light late in the evening holds up the internal clock phase. This can make you prefer later sleep times or make it difficult to fall asleep.
Jet Lag and Shift Work
Light serves typically to set your circadian rhythm to the appropriate time. However, problems start to occur when your light exposure changes because of traveling across multiple zones or a shift in your work schedule.
People who travel across different time zones and those who work through the night have two similar symptoms;
- Insomnia. When you're trying to sleep outside your normal internal phase.
- Excessive sleepiness. When your circadian rhythm says that you should be asleep.
Keep in mind that when you take intercontinental flights, you're likely to suffer fatigue and sleeping problems until your internal clock acclimates to the day-night cycle of your new location. Shift Work, on the other hand, will put your sleep pattern directly at odds with your local daylight hours.
Pain, Anxiety, and Other Health Conditions
Various medical and psychological conditions can influence sleep structure and its distribution. This includes but is not limited to;
- Chronic pain from arthritis
- Pain caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Discomfort caused by the premenstrual syndrome
Just like other sleep disturbances, pain and discomfort tend to restrict your depth of sleep and only allow brief episodes upon awakening.
People who experience stress and depression find it hard to stick to their usual sleep schedule, and when they do, their sleep tends to include less deep sleep and more REM sleep.
Medications, Dietary Stimulants, and Other Substances
Dozens of prescription drugs that patients use to control common disease symptoms have varying effects on sleep. For instance, alpha-blockers, which are used to treat prostate conditions and high blood pressure, often cause a decrease in REM sleep and increase daytime sleepiness.
Dietary stimulants can also affect the quality and quantity of sleep, thus disrupting your sleep schedule. Caffeine, for instance, can take up to 10 hours to metabolize fully. And since these stimulants work by blocking the adenosine receptors (they're partly responsible for sleep drive), you may end up staying alert for quite some time.
Alcohol consumption, similarly, incites sleep fragmentation due to the arousal effect it has as it metabolizes later on in the night. Heavy evening meals can also cause circadian misalignment as they can lead to indigestion and abdominal discomfort.
What Happens When Your Circadian Rhythm is Off?
A misaligned circadian rhythm means that your body systems don't function optimally. Besides causing daytime sleepiness and trouble sleeping during the night, a disturbed sleep-wake circadian rhythm can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder that reduces oxygen levels in the body and causes numerous sleep interruptions at night.
As a whole, a disrupted body clock can affect sleep in various ways, increasing your risk of insomnia and daytime drowsiness. Given the crucial role of quality sleep for productivity and overall well-being, there are often severe consequences when your circadian rhythm is off.
Tips for Resetting Your Sleep Routine
While many factors disrupt sleep routine, there are nearly as many tips and treatments available to help you fix your sleep schedule. A strong start in improving sleep is creating the perfect conditions for a healthy sleep cycle. Also, it would help if you considered training yourself to get to bed early.
Perfect sleep hygiene and an optimized sleep environment play a significant role in resetting the body clock. It helps set the stage for being more relaxed at night and more focused during the day. These tips will help you realign your body clock and reset your sleep-wake cycle.
Use Natural Light to Your Advantage
Natural light stimulates your body's production of melatonin. The daily cycles of darkness and lightness are vital cues that act on your sleep clock's mechanism. Once your eyes detect the light, they transmit the information to your SCN, which prompts the pineal gland to secrete melatonin.
When your melatonin levels are high at night, you feel drowsy, leading to sleep. Alternatively, when your body senses light during the day, it ceases the production of melatonin to wake you.
Basically, this means you should stick to the earth's natural cues. Try to get out into the sunshine first thing in the morning and expose yourself to natural light throughout the day. As the sun winds down, start dimming lights while ensuring your bedroom is virtually black and keeping it devoid of any screens and other disrupting devices.
You'll definitely want to minimize screen time and avoid blue light exposure while resetting your sleep routine. Remember, blue light can trick your mind and body into thinking it's daytime. And, the longer you get exposed to this light during bedtime, the longer melatonin production will be delayed.
Review Your Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment should be a place of relaxation, not a gaming room or a work office. So, start by buying a comfortable mattress and ensuring you have ample pillows in bed. Old pillows and mattresses can cause pains and aches, making it quite challenging to get quality sleep.
That's why you should always replace your pillows every two years and mattresses every 10 years. You should also invest in blackout shades and window blinds to help you adequately block outside light.
Other necessary adjustments that can help you reset your sleep routine and fall asleep faster include;
Keeping it cool - Your body temperature naturally drops just before bedtime to prepare for sleep. A cool sleep environment between 60 - 67°F (15 - 19°C) can help stimulate this natural change for a restful sleep. Anything higher than 75°F (24°C) or below 54°F (12°C) might cause discomfort, thus disrupting sleep.
Keeping it dark - Too much artificial light filtering into your bedroom can hamper sleep. So, keeping your sleep environment dark, or at least pitch-black, will help you feel comfortable.
Keeping it quiet - A quiet room is a must for a restful sleep. Because your brain keeps processing sound as you sleep, loud and distracting noise can make it hard to stay asleep. To achieve complete silence, keep your television out of your room and switch off your cell phone before bedtime. You can also use soundproof curtains, windows, and carpets. If you reside in a noisy neighborhood, you can rely on white sound to help you get quality sleep.
Get Daily Exercise
One of the best ways of resetting your circadian rhythms is by getting regular exercise. For starters, exercising can help you fall asleep much faster and sleep even more soundly as it promotes melatonin production.
Most of your body tissues, including the skeletal muscles, are linked to the circadian rhythm. So, when you work out, these muscles will respond by aligning your body clock. Note that evening workouts can overstimulate your body. So, try to finish your workout activities at least three hours before sleep or exercise earlier in the day.
Practicing relaxation might also help you sleep better. When you're anxious and feel depressed and stressed out, your body makes more cortisol (stress hormone). The higher the rate of these hormones on your body, the more awake you'll feel.
Luckily, creating a relaxing bedtime ritual can help you minimize stress and its effects on sleep. You can focus on calming activities like deep breathing, stretching, yoga, and meditation.
Don't eat heavy meals just before bed. Heavy and high-fat meals might easily disrupt sleep as they take a while to digest. If you get hungry during the night, snack on food that won't disturb your sleep. These include carbs, dairy products, or light snacks with protein like peanut butter or crackers.
Also, it would be best if you tried to finish your dinner at least three to four before bedtime. This gives you ample time to digest your meal.
Use Melatonin Aids (If All Else Fails)
Sometimes, due to various factors, such as social and work obligations, you'll have a hard time falling asleep within your melatonin window. When this happens, you may want to opt for melatonin supplements to help you reset your sleep-wake cycle. Unlike sleep medicine, these supplements are natural sleep aids that can help you sleep comfortably and more quickly.
On the other hand, taking melatonin supplements in the morning can delay your sleep patterns. This is often beneficial for night-shift workers and other individuals who sleep later than their biological sleep cycle. That said, it's always wise to consider your target bedtimes before supplementing with melatonin. You should also consult a medical professional for more information about melatonin supplements before incorporating them into your diet. Click here to read more on healthy sleep tips.
Here's to a Restful Sleep
The importance of resetting your sleep routine stretches far and wide, from how restful your sleep is to how productive you'll be during the day. By making a few lifestyle changes and practicing good sleep hygiene, you can get your sleep routine back on track and start enjoying a good night's sleep. Just be patient with yourself, and be rest assured that the dread linked to your alarm clock early in the mornings will pass in due course. You may not even need to rely on an alarm clock once your biological clock is in sync.
However, if you practice good sleep hygiene and still have trouble sleeping, talk to a certified sleep coach. Restorative sleep is a severe health issue, and you may be battling more complicated problems and sleep disorders that need attention.