It’s not uncommon to fall into unhealthy patterns and bad habits regarding our sleep schedules. It’s often something that gets put to the back of your mind, or maybe you’re someone who promises yourself you’ll start waking up early from next week, but then Monday morning comes, and you hit the snooze button when your alarm goes off.
If you’re finding yourself struggling to wake up in the morning, no matter what you try, then it could be that your Circadian Rhythm is all out of whack.
When looking at your general sleep hygiene, it’s vital that you always stick to the exact sleep/wake times, even on the weekend. The more you can adhere to this, the easier you’ll find it, and the better you will feel in yourself.
So whether you need advice on waking up to your alarm, how to feel energized in the morning, or how to make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep, I am here to guide you through everything you need to know about improving your sleep schedule for a healthier life.
What is a Circadian Rhythm?
Your Circadian Rhythm, also known as the body’s internal clock, is the system within us that lets us know when we should go to sleep and when we should wake up.
Our Circadian Rhythm tends to read off lighting situations as to whether or not we should be asleep or awake, which is why, in many people, we are alert and awake throughout the day and start to get tired when the sun goes down, but this isn’t the case for everyone. There is often a good reason if your circadian rhythm is not working as it should, which I will look into in more detail later.
If your Circadian Rhythm is functioning correctly and in sync, then, in theory, you should find that you wake up feeling refreshed most mornings, as you should have had a full, restorative night’s sleep. However, for those who are out of sync, it can mean a lot of health problems and sleep disorders such as insomnia.
In more recent years, following extensive research, it has also come to light that problems with your sleep cycle can lead to mental health problems.
How Does Your Circadian Rhythm Work?
Your Circadian Rhythm ensures that your alertness and body are reacting and working as they should at various times throughout the day. For instance, it allows the digestive system to release proteins around meal times and starts to wind down around the time we usually go to sleep.
The master clock, which is located in the brain, sends signals at various times of the day, which regulates the body’s activity. This is what makes us sensitive to light, which is why our brains and bodies often feel more active during daylight hours.
Why Your Body Clock Maybe Out of Sync?
There are a few possible reasons that your biological clock or circadian rhythm might be off track. These could include factors such as the hours you work, whether or not you have been sleeping during the day, and if so, how long, and also your sleeping conditions, such as lighting, sound distractions, or whether or not you have screens in your bedroom.
When your sleep is disturbed, it can lead to your internal body clocks getting messed up. This means that signals are then sent at the wrong time. When this happens, it could cause you difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the morning. It could also mean you feel overly drowsy halfway through the day, making day-to-day activities and concentration difficult. It can also result in waking up multiple times during the night, known as broken sleep.
All of the above problems mean that you will have poor sleep quality and poor general health and sleep hygiene.
Sleeping Disorders Related to A Poor Sleep Schedule
Below is a list of circumstances that can disrupt your sleep schedule. Some of these depend on personal circumstances such as your job or holidays; others are medical disorders that may need to be treated by a professional. If you think you are possibly suffering from a physical condition, it is essential to see a doctor to discuss your options.
Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
This is a rare disorder, which means that the sufferer never has any consistency in their sleep/wake routine. More often than not, this disorder is related to a problem in the brain which affects the master clock’s functions.
Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder has been associated with brain trauma and dementia.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
If you’re someone who likes to stay up late, binging through a Netflix series, then this disorder may very well sound familiar. Most people who tend to stay up until the early hours of the morning will often need to sleep late into the day to get enough sleep.
The exact cause of this disorder isn’t yet known, but it is primarily seen in teenagers and can mean that you have an underlying health condition.
Non-24-Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder
Because the circadian rhythm relates to light and dark, this is a common disorder seen in blind people because their body clocks cannot read the sun’s signals to tell us when to go to bed.
This can mean their sleep pattern alters day-to-day, and they can end up falling asleep earlier or waking up later at a different time from one day to the next.
Advanced Sleep Disorder
This is another rare condition that only affects around 1% of people, usually middle-aged and elderly. It’s believed that this could be a genetic disorder, but this hasn’t yet been entirely proven.
People who suffer from this disorder usually start to feel tired and ready for bed very early on in the evening and wake up much earlier than needed. So even if they want to have a late night or lie in, they find it really difficult to do.
Shift Work Disorder
This one is quite self-explanatory and relates to anyone who works shifts, such as those in emergency services, hospitality, or anyone on call. This massively impacts the circadian rhythm because the body never gets a chance to get into a pattern of sleep and wake during a 24-hour period.
Jet Lag Disorder
After flying a long journey, through another time zone, or multiple, it can take a while for the circadian rhythm to adjust and recover; while your body acclimatizes to this, you’re likely to feel fatigued or have difficulty sleeping for the first night. This usually fixes itself after a day or two.
7 Easy Things You Can Do To Fix Your Sleep Schedule
Have a Routine
One of the critical things you should consider when trying to fix your sleep schedule and maintain it is sticking to a strict sleep routine. This means that you work out the best hours of sleep that suit your lifestyle and work life and set yourself a bedtime that you stick to every night.
You also need to ensure that you wake up at the same time every morning. By doing this, your body will start to recognize when it’s time for bed and when it’s time to go to sleep.
To make this easier, give yourself a routine that your body will start recognizing as a cue for sleep. It is entirely up to you how you wish to plan your bedtime routine. It could be reading a book, having a warm bath, listening to calming music, or even carrying out a skincare routine.
While eliminating caffeine altogether is sometimes recommended, this depends on the individual. Most of the time, a small amount of caffeine during the day won’t do you any harm or interrupt your sleep.
However, it is important to avoid caffeine late in the day, preferably for around 6 hours before you plan to go to bed.
Stick to a Balanced Diet
Your diet can play a considerable role in the quality of sleep you get. For instance, if you consume a lot of foods that are high in sugar, then this can mean you struggle to sleep when it comes to bedtime.
Another thing to avoid is large meals late at night. This can give you heartburn, which can lead to discomfort when trying to sleep.
The best things to eat in the evening if you are feeling peckish are foods such as meat, nuts, and vegetables. These will satisfy any hunger pangs without disturbing your sleep schedule.
Think About Room Lighting
As bedtime approaches, avoiding any kind of bright light is best. You can do this by keeping the curtains closed, using table lamps instead of bright ceiling lights, and, most importantly, avoiding blue light. This means, don’t use devices such as television, mobile phones, and laptops in the hours leading up to sleep.
As well as keeping it dark at night, the light first thing in the morning can also make a difference. When you first awaken, if you remain in a dark room, your body will still think it’s time to sleep, and the temptation to go back to sleep will be strong. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to get up as soon as you open your eyes, open the curtains, or step outside; if this isn’t possible, then a bright indoor light will suffice.
If you need an alarm to wake up in the morning, there are sleep aid lights available that awaken you by gradually lighting up, mimicking the sunrise. These are much more effective for waking up than a sudden noise like an alarm on your phone.
Avoid Alcohol Before Bed
If you’re struggling to sleep, you may be tempted to reach for a nightcap to help you drift off. This is actually not effective in terms of getting a restorative night’s sleep. This is because when you drink alcohol, your body tends to skip the first one or two stages of the sleep cycle, which can mean you end up in a deep sleep during the early hours of the morning and a light sleep in the middle of the night.
This confusion of the cycle means that your circadian rhythm is thrown out of sync and can lead you to experience sleep disturbances and fatigue in the days that follow.
It makes sense that exercise plays a big part in our sleep schedules because, of course, working out makes you tired due to the amount of energy you’ve burned.
It is best to exercise during the morning or afternoon if you want it to positively affect your sleep. Working out late at night can have adverse impacts meaning that when you come to go to sleep, you feel even more alert.
Have Short Power Naps
Power naps are an effective way to catch up on sleep during the day if you feel like you’re starting to crash. However, in order for them to be beneficial, they must be done correctly. Sleeping for 20 minutes is enough to give you a boost for the rest of the day; any more than this, you risk falling into REM sleep and waking up halfway through a cycle.
This will then mean you may wake up groggy and feeling even more unrested than you did before your nap.
If you nap for too long, you increase the risk of not being able to get to sleep at your regular bedtime, disrupting your sleep schedule.
How to Stick to Your New Sleep Schedule?
Once you have established a sleep schedule that works for you, it is vital that you stick to it. The temptation to stay up late on the weekend or have a lie-in on a Sunday morning sometimes sets you back more than you realize. So the initial thing you need to do is make sure you’re happy with the goals you’ve set yourself and stick to them 7 days a week.
Beyond this, there are plenty of things that you can do yourself to make sure that your sleep schedule remains consistent, and is benefiting your health as much as possible, such as:
- Wake up at the same time each morning.
- Don’t hit the snooze button.
- Limit caffeine late in the day.
- Make sure any late-night exercise is gentle, such as yoga or stretching.
- Learn how to meditate in bed.
- Set yourself a sleep routine that calms you.
- Don’t go to bed stressed.
- Avoid drinking alcohol for at least three hours before bed.
- Don’t nap for long periods of time or too close to bedtime.
- Make a comfortable sleeping environment by ensuring that your room is comfortable, dark, and at a cool temperature.
- Avoid sleep disturbances by using eye masks or earplugs if necessary.
- Make sure that what you wear to bed is comfortable and loose fitting.
- Avoid devices such as tablets, computers, phones, and televisions before bed.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
Health Problems Caused By an Out-of-Sync Circadian Rhythm
Many health problems have been linked to poor quality sleep. If your body clock isn’t in sync, this can result in other physical issues such as diabetes, increased heart rate, stress, anxiety, insomnia, sleep apnea, weight gain, and mood swings.
Sleep disturbances and lack of sleep can also lead to more severe health problems, such as heart disease, depression, and increased blood pressure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the biological clock and the circadian rhythm the same thing?
No. Circadian rhythm is an effect that is processed by your biological clock.
What are the symptoms of having disturbed sleep?
Having disturbed sleep or not having a stable sleep schedule can result in fatigue, sickness, lowered-immune system, depression, weight gain, and can also affect your memory function.
How can I improve my sleep schedule?
There are many practices that you can put in place to help improve your sleep schedule. The most important one is establishing a sleep routine that works for you and fits your lifestyle. An adult’s average recommended amount of sleep is around 7 or 8 hours, so set a time to go to bed and wake up. For instance, if you need to wake up at 6:00 am in the morning, you should go to bed between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm the night before.
So we have established that if you want to fix your sleep schedule to improve your health, you must first have a set sleep routine in place. Doing this increases your chances of getting a fully restorative night’s sleep, which will benefit your mental, physical and general health in the long run.
One thing to remember while trying to improve your sleep schedule is that it is not something that has a quick fix. There is nothing to say precisely how long it will take to establish a successful sleep schedule, and it might be that you have to try a few different methods before you find one that works for you. But one sure thing is to stick to the routine that works once you have discovered it.
If you decide to steer away from your new schedule, for example, pulling an all-nighter or having a lie-in, then the best thing you can do is to return to your routine as soon as possible. It might take a night or so for your body clock to reset. But, doing this on rare occasions should not affect your sleep hygiene in the long run.
Lastly, suppose you’re a shift worker or returning from a holiday in another time zone. In these cases, there are some things that you can do to still make sure you have a strict sleeping pattern in place. For example, getting back into a steady routine at the next chance you can, making sure you’re getting the same amount of sleep in every 24-hour cycle, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet.
Hopefully, after reading this information, you are now on your way to an improved and more beneficial sleep schedule that will help you improve your quality of life and general health.