Life can get in the way of a healthy sleep schedule. Having a baby, traveling to different time zones, and working a late shift can all affect the body’s inner clock. Once the clock has been disrupted, it can be difficult to reset, but it can be done.
Everyone has an internal clock known as your circadian rhythm, which regulates many many physiological processes and tells your body when to sleep, wake, and eat. Circadian rhythms naturally operate on a cycle of roughly 24 hours, but environmental cues such as temperature and sunlight can affect your clock’s rhythm.
Disruptions to this cycle can lead to unhealthy eating and sleeping patterns. The risk of cardiovascular events, obesity, and neurological problems such as depression and bipolar disorder all increase under the influence of a disrupted circadian rhythm. If you feel like your natural rhythm is out of whack, the following tactics may help reset it.
1. Create a bedtime routine
Let your body know that it’s bedtime by sticking to a consistent bedtime routine. If your schedule allows, do something relaxing like taking a warm bath or meditating. Or download a relaxation app on your phone and play soothing sound effects each night after getting into bed.
2. Light up your mornings
Light tells your body that it’s time to get up, but most people don’t have the luxury of waking up with the sun. Try an alarm clock that uses light instead of an audible alarm. As soon as you get up, create your own light by turning on the lights and opening the blinds. If you have time, go for a morning walk.
3. Create sundown inside
After the sun goes down outside, modern technology keeps most homes flooded with light. Light from overhead lighting, television screens, computers, e-readers, and smartphones all communicate to the body that it’s still daytime. Get into the habit of dimming the lights in the evening to tell your body it’s time to start winding down, and implement “screen free” time after a certain hour. If you can’t bring yourself to completely turn off all devices, adjust the display brightness and use the night setting where available. Turn off all electronics completely at least 30 minutes before getting into bed.
4. Exercise for sleep
Add improved sleep to the lengthy list of reasons that exercise is healthy. People who exercise regularly sleep better. Adding even 15-20 minutes a day of physical activity can help. Don’t exercise vigorously late in the day, though, as it may keep you up late. Walking, yoga, or stretching are all good evening choices.
5. Schedule eating
The old adage, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper,” has some truth to it. A big breakfast gives the body the fuel it needs to recover from an overnight fast and get through the morning. Lunch is the booster to get through the afternoon. Supper should be light. Eating a big meal late in the day gives the body a lot of work to do overnight and can disrupt your sleeping pattern.
6. Nap briefly
Napping isn’t a bad idea. Power naps in the afternoon can be a healthier pick-me-up than coffee or an energy drink. Long naps, however, can make it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. The perfect nap is around 10-20 minutes: long enough to be restorative but not long enough to get through all the sleep cycles. Trial and error will help you determine your perfect nap length. Start with 20 minutes and cut back from there if you feel groggy when the alarm goes off.
7. Watch caffeine intake
Coffee in the morning is probably fine, but don’t reach for a caffeine crutch in the afternoon. Most people need to cut out caffeine at least six hours before bedtime, but some people need to stop sooner. Caffeine can create a vicious cycle of highs and lows. Weaning yourself from it entirely will actually give you more energy in the long-run. Drinking cold water in the morning has been found to be as effective as a cup of coffee for waking up. If you can’t let go of the coffee habit, drink a glass of water before your coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic, so the water will help balance out its dehydrating effects.
8. Limit sleep aids
Sleep aids are okay occasionally but aren’t good for prolonged use. They alter the sleep cycle and override the brain’s natural sleep activity. Melatonin supplements can be a good alternative for times when you need to reset your sleep cycle. Melatonin is something that your body produces naturally so it’s less disruptive than other options. Traveling with melatonin can help overcome the effect of jet lag.
9. Practice proactive time zone adjustment
If you know you’ll be traveling to a different time zone, try to at least partially adjust before you leave. Ease your transition by going to bed an hour or two earlier or later each night starting a few days before your trip.
10. Manage your work schedule
Try to limit your work schedule to a consistent shift. If you must work the third shift, try to stick to it if your job allows. This gives your body the opportunity to adjust to a consistent rhythm and stick with it. Third-shift workers need to work harder to communicate to the body when to sleep and wake up. If you leave work in the morning light, wear sunglasses until you get home and keep the lights dim in the house. Use blackout curtains to make the bedroom dark and earplugs to block out noise.
Healthy sleep habits are an important part of any weight-loss program. Sleep deprivation affects the body’s hormone production and can make it difficult to lose weight. A lack of sleep increases the production of ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, and decreases the production of leptin, which tells the brain when to stop eating. Resetting your sleep schedule can improve the effectiveness of other aspects of your weight-loss program, such as diet and exercise.
At Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers, our personalized weight-loss programs are crafted uniquely for you and updated frequency to help you lose weight, feel your best, and improve your health in all areas of life. We work with each patient to understand why you gained the weight and discover the underlying factors that may be making weight loss difficult for you. Request a no-cost consultation to learn more about our medically supervised weight-loss program.
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on March 29, 2018