How Long Does It Take to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule?

It can take a few days to a few weeks to adjust to a new sleep schedule. It depends on factors like how much and in which direction you’re adjusting your sleep.
Updated
2024-02-02
9 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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How Long Does It Take to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule?

  • It can take a few days or a few weeks to adjust your sleep schedule. 
  • It’s different for everyone and depends on factors like how much you’re trying to adjust your schedule, which direction you’re adjusting it in, and how quickly you’re moving your sleep times. Certain habits, like when you get and avoid light, and how sleep deprived you are, can speed up or slow down the process. 
  • The RISE app can help you adjust to a new sleep schedule faster with personalized guidance on when to get and avoid light, how much sleep you need, and the timing of your biological clock, which controls your sleep schedule.

Whether it’s to become an early bird, prepare for night shifts, or get over jet lag, there are times when you need to adjust your sleep schedule — and fast. 

But it’s not a one-day job. How long it takes can depend on quite a few factors, and a few bad habits can make adjusting to a new schedule take longer.  

Below, we’ll explain how long it takes to adjust your sleep schedule and how you can use the RISE app to adjust faster.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“It can take days or weeks to adjust your sleep-wake cycle. Everyone adjusts at different rates, and it’ll depend on factors like how big of a change you’re trying to make,” says Dr. Chester Wu, Rise Science sleep advisor and double board certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“The trick is to make small changes every few days and move your entire schedule - sleep-wake times, meal times, and when you're exposed to light - together.”

How Long Does It Take to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule?

It can take a few days or weeks to adjust your sleep schedule, depending on factors like how much you’re adjusting it, how quickly you move your sleep times, and which direction you’re adjusting in. Plus, behaviors like when you get and avoid light can speed up or slow down the process. If you’re sleep deprived, it will be harder to stick to your new schedule, too. 

Here’s what can affect how quickly you adjust to new sleep times: 

  • How much you’re adjusting: The bigger the change you’re trying to make to your sleep routine, the longer it’ll take. When you’re adjusting your sleep schedule, you’re adjusting the timing of your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock). This can only shift by an hour or two each day, so adjusting your sleep schedule by four hours is going to take longer than one hour. 
  • How quickly you move your sleep times: We recommend shifting your sleep schedule by 15 to 30 minutes every few days. Smaller adjustments are easier to stick to, but it’ll take longer to get to your new sleep times. 
  • Which direction you’re adjusting in: It’s easier to push back your sleep schedule than bring it forward. Your circadian rhythm is slightly longer than one day — on average it’s 24.2 hours — so it’s easier to adjust to a longer day, pushing back sleep times, than a shorter one. Plus, evening light exposure, which can be hard to avoid, is very powerful at pushing your sleep back. Some research suggests we adjust to westward flights (a later sleep schedule) 30% to 50% faster than eastward flights (an earlier sleep schedule). More research indicates we can move our circadian rhythms later by about two hours per day, but earlier by only one to 1.5 hours per day. 
  • Zeitgebers: German for time-givers, Zeitgebers are external cues that time your circadian rhythm to the outside world. They include light (the most powerful one), food, activity/exercise, temperature, and social interaction. Getting the timing of each of these right can speed up how quickly you adjust. For example, getting light in the morning can pull forward your circadian rhythm, whereas getting it before bed (think bright artificial lights or pre-bed screen time) can push it back. 
  • Chronotype: Your chronotype is whether you’re a natural early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between. Early birds may find it easier to shift their schedules earlier, as their circadian rhythms already skew toward earlier sleep times, while night owls may take longer to adjust to an earlier schedule — and vice versa. 
  • Age: It can take older adults longer to shift their circadian rhythms. Plus, teenagers are naturally more night owls, and we become more early birds as we age. If you’re trying to adjust against the grain, it can take longer. 
  • Consistency: The more consistent you are with your sleep schedule, the quicker you’ll adjust. For example, if you stick to earlier times during the week, but hit snooze several times on weekends, you’ll throw off your circadian rhythm and prolong the adjustment period.  
  • Sleep debt: Sleep debt is how much sleep you owe your body. You can pay back sleep debt with short afternoon naps, or in slightly larger chunks by going to sleep a little earlier or sleeping in a little later. But this involves changing your sleep times, which makes adjusting to a new sleep schedule harder and take longer. 

Check RISE to see how much sleep debt you have. RISE also predicts the timing of your circadian rhythm, so you can see when your body naturally wants to sleep and wake up. 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and grogginess times
The RISE app can predict the timing of your circadian rhythm.

Here’s how long it can take to adjust your sleep in different scenarios: 

Sleeping and waking up earlier: It may take a few days to over a week to adjust to an earlier schedule. The bigger the shift, the longer it can take. 

You can’t force your body to sleep at an earlier time if it’s not ready, especially if you’re trying to make a big jump. There’s a time in the early evening called the forbidden zone for sleep, which is when your energy levels rise as part of your circadian rhythm about two to three hours before your usual bedtime. As the name implies, you’ll find it hard — if not impossible — to fall asleep during this time (unless you’re very sleep deprived). Small, slow changes can help you gradually start sleeping earlier. 

We walk you through how to become a morning person here. 

Jet lag: It can take one to two days per time zone you’ve crossed to adjust. 

We’ve covered how long jet lag lasts here.

Daylight savings time: Don’t let the one-hour shift fool you — it may take days to weeks to adjust. It can take longer to adjust in spring, when clocks go forward, compared to fall, when clocks go back. Research shows some people experience sleep loss for eight weeks or more after the spring time change, and extreme night owls may never truly adjust. 

We’ve covered how to adjust to daylight savings time here.

Shift work: If you’re working rotating shifts, you may never truly adjust to your ever-changing sleep schedule. 

Rotating shifts that move forward in time may be easier to adjust to as we tend to adjust better to longer days than shorter days. Pay extra attention to getting enough sleep. Try to keep sleep debt low to feel and function optimally. 

Talk to a healthcare provider or sleep specialist if you’re struggling to shift your sleep times. They can test you for sleep disorders and recommend treatments to speed up the process, like light therapy. 

Choosing new sleep times? We’ve covered what a good sleep schedule is here — the most important factor is having enough time to get enough sleep for you.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen here and view their sleep debt here.

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Will Pulling an All-Nighter Fix My Sleep Schedule Faster? 

Pulling an all-nighter won’t fix your sleep schedule faster. Instead, you’ll increase your sleep debt, disrupt your circadian rhythm, and experience side effects like increased daytime sleepiness. This will make it more likely you’ll fall asleep during the day, go to bed earlier, or wake up later, messing up your regular sleep schedule further. Plus, it won’t do your physical and mental health, mood, or productivity the next day any favors. 

Instead of pulling an all-nighter, shift your sleep and wake-up times in 15-to-30-minute increments over several days. 

What Is the Fastest Way to Fix My Sleep Schedule?

The fastest way to fix your sleep schedule is by making small 15-to-30-minute adjustments, staying consistent, and getting the timing of light exposure right. Get light in the morning and daytime, and avoid it before bed. Shift your light, meal, and exercise times in the direction you’re shifting your sleep pattern.

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Maintaining good sleep hygiene can also help you adjust faster. Good sleep hygiene will help you fall and stay asleep at the time you’d like to, whereas poor sleep hygiene can make it harder to fall and stay asleep, so you’ll take longer to adjust.

Good sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Getting out in natural light for at least 10 minutes each morning, and as much as you can during the day. 
  • Dimming the lights and putting on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bed. 
  • Avoiding caffeine, large meals, alcohol, and intense exercise too close to bedtime
  • Doing a relaxing bedtime routine to unwind 
  • Making your sleep environment cool, dark, and quiet — consider blackout curtains, an eye mask, and earplugs to minimize disruptions

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits based on your circadian rhythm to make them more effective, including when to get and avoid bright light. 

Once you’re on your desired sleep times, keep a consistent sleep schedule to avoid losing this progress. 

Good sleep hygiene and a consistent sleep schedule can also help you keep your sleep debt low, which, in turn, can help you adjust more quickly to a new schedule as you won’t need to extend your sleep time to catch up on shut-eye. 

We’ve covered how to fix your sleep schedule here, including when to use melatonin supplements to adjust faster and tips for shift workers.

Expert tip: If you want to get on an earlier sleep schedule, use RISE’s Smart Schedule feature. You’ll get a recommended bedtime that slowly shifts earlier, taking into account how much sleep you need, the time you want to wake up, and whether you have any sleep debt. 

RISE app screenshot showing recommended bedtime
The RISE app can recommend a bedtime that slowly shifts earlier.

The amount of sleep you need will be unique to you — this is known as your sleep need. 

Use RISE to find out how much sleep you should be getting. Looking at 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found their sleep needs ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.
The hours of sleep RISE users need.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here

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It Takes Time to Get on a Good Sleep Schedule 

It can take a few days to a few weeks to adjust your sleep schedule, depending on several factors. 

Want to adjust faster? The RISE app can help. 

RISE can guide you through 20+ healthy sleep habits that’ll help you fall asleep faster at your new bedtime and wake up less often. If you’re trying to sleep earlier, RISE’s Smart Schedule feature can gently guide you onto an earlier schedule and help you get enough sleep while doing it. 

Users regularly turn to RISE to get their sleep back on track:

“I’ve used this app for years and I love it. It always helps me reset my sleep schedule when I get off the wagon too long.” Read the review

And it doesn’t take long to notice the difference — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days. 

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