You spent the whole day answering work emails, running errands, and caring for your kids. Yet when night falls, you’re furiously counting sheep instead of catching z’s. Needless to say, your next-day energy levels are almost non-existent, and you end up feeling and functioning at a suboptimal level due to a lack of sleep.
When you aren’t able to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, you’re not getting the sleep you need, meaning you’re racking up sleep debt. The effects of sleep debt can be felt immediately, impacting everything from your productivity at work to how positive you feel during the day, with the inevitable lower energy levels meaning you’re not functioning or feeling your best. This might leave you wondering how it’s even possible you’re asking yourself how to make yourself tired at night — indeed, you know you’re incredibly tired! As it happens, your inability to fall asleep and stay asleep has likely nothing to do with how tired you are.
This post will show you that meeting your sleep need is not about finding the right sleeping position or monitoring your sleep quality (for which there's no scientifically agreed upon definition). Instead, learning how to improve your sleep hygiene (key behaviors practiced throughout the day paired with your circadian rhythm) will help you fall asleep and stay asleep to get the rest your body needs.
If you’re wondering how to make yourself tired, the first thing you really need to know is when to go to bed so you can fall asleep and stay asleep and get the rest your body needs. The key to this is understanding your circadian rhythm and, relatedly, the daily behaviors you can practice each day to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
The reason why you’re feeling tired (despite having trouble falling asleep at your target bedtime) is due to what scientists call your sleep drive. We’ll go into the specifics later in this section, but what you need to know is that your sleep drive and circadian rhythm are two independent processes that work synergistically to govern your sleep-wake cycle. This two-process model of sleep regulation was developed by sleep scientist Alexander Borbély. Understanding how your sleep drive and circadian rhythm interacts with each other is the foundation for helping you get the hours of sleep you need for better energy the next day.
Your sleep-wake cycle relies on sleep pressure to operate normally. Sleep pressure is the gradual buildup of adenosine — an organic compound that causes drowsiness — to help you fall asleep at night. So, how does sleep pressure relate to your sleep drive (aka sleep homeostasis)?
You can think of sleep homeostasis as a seesaw that wants to be level. When sleep pressure builds during your waking moments on one end, the seesaw becomes unbalanced. This prompts you to go to bed at night and purge your brain of adenosine while you sleep, returning the seesaw to its balanced state come morning.
When your body isn’t given the chance to meet its sleep need, it can’t fully remove adenosine. The resulting sleep debt is why you don’t have to wonder about how to make yourself tired — your body is already suffering from sleep deprivation. Instead, what you need to do is to learn how to work with your circadian rhythm (and practice good sleep hygiene) to help you get the sleep you need.
Understanding how your sleep drive works is fundamental to getting quality sleep, but it’s not the only factor. The other part of the equation is your circadian rhythm, an internal clock that operates in roughly 24-hour periods.
Your circadian clock dictates how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and plays a key role in helping you get to sleep at night. When you wake up, light triggers your circadian master clock — the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in your brain — to produce circadian-alerting signals and neutralize drowsiness. These signals increase steadily from the moment you rouse until quieting down temporarily in the afternoon (i.e., your afternoon dip). They then pick up again.
As you get closer to your bedtime, your sleep drive is at an all-time high. In response, your internal clock puts in one last burst of energy to produce peak levels of circadian-alerting signals and try to combat the increased sleepiness. This is why you usually experience an energy surge during the few hours before bed (we call this phase your Evening Peak in the RISE app). Falling asleep 2-3 hours before your biological bedtime becomes near impossible, which is something you’ve probably encountered when traveling east between different time zones (it’s more difficult to bring your bedtime forward than delay it).
Past this peak, the circadian signals lose their intensity due to the absence of light and an overpowering sleep drive. Lo and behold, you’ve reached your prime time for sleep, which we refer to as your Melatonin Window in the RISE app (more on that later).
If you’re wondering why you have trouble sleeping at your target bedtime, circadian misalignment is often the crux of the problem. As much as your circadian rhythm marches to its own beat, external factors like light and caffeine have the power to upset your internal clock.
Below, we look at the culprits behind circadian misalignment and suggest ways to tackle them and improve your sleep hygiene. That way, you can get the rest your mind and body need to enjoy each day.
Irregular sleep and wake times trip up your circadian rhythm and throw it off balance. Napping at the wrong time can also lower your sleep drive, making it harder to snooze at night.
For many, the workweek revolves around an early sleep schedule. When the weekend rolls around, we tend to keep late nights for social calls and sleep in the next morning. Unfortunately, this sets you up for social jetlag (a disconnect between your biological and social times), which is why you have difficulty snoozing on Sunday night even if you’ve gone to bed early.
Keeping your sleep patterns regular is one of the best ways to reorient your circadian rhythm and help you go to sleep when it’s best for you. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule that accounts for your sleep need and chronotype (i.e., your biological preferences for sleeping and waking). Also, schedule naps as far away from your target bedtime as possible, reserving them for your afternoon dip.
Knowing when to go to bed is vital to falling asleep more easily and remaining asleep throughout the night. But, there’s a huge difference between trying to go to bed earlier and knowing exactly when that optimal window of time is.
RISE takes the guesswork out of your sleep schedule by calculating your biological bedtime based on your recent sleep times and circadian rhythm. We call it your Melatonin Window in the app, which may change from day to day, depending on external factors and how consistent your sleep schedule has been.
As darkness falls, your brain starts producing melatonin (a sleep-promoting hormone) 2-3 hours before bedtime in what scientists call the dim light melatonin onset (DLMO). DLMO marks the start of your Melatonin Window, a prime time for sleep as your body’s melatonin production hits peak levels.
When you don’t go to bed during your Melatonin Window (read: you sleep earlier or later), it's harder for you to doze off as your body now has less melatonin to work with. RISE can help you hit the sack at the right time to avoid the above scenario. Go to the "Energy" tab in the app and add the “Melatonin Window” habit to your "Energy Schedule." This way, you won't miss out on your prime time for sleep.
Light is another major contributing factor to circadian misalignment. Exposure to sunlight in the morning prompts your brain to suppress melatonin and raises cortisol (a hormone that encourages alertness) and serotonin (a mood-regulating neurotransmitter). Where light can work for you in the morning to help you wake up, it can also work against you at night and hinder your sleep.
Modern society has taught us to surround ourselves with artificial light when darkness falls — think blue-light-emitting electronic devices and street lights. This fools your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Too much light at any intensity (bright or dim) may make us assume our inability to fall asleep is due to insomnia rather than the light sources around us.
In fact, research shows that exposure to artificial room lighting (less than 200 lux) at dusk:
With suboptimal melatonin levels to work with, it’s no wonder you don’t feel tired even when it’s time for bed.
To make light work for you, bask in sunlight when you get up to jumpstart your internal clock and promote circadian alignment. If you don’t have access to natural light when you wake up, try a light lamp.
When dusk falls, wear blue-light blocking glasses and opt for dim lighting to help you fall asleep more easily. RISE can remind you when to wear your glasses to minimize blue light exposure. Go to the "Energy" tab in the app and add the “Blue-Light Blocking” habit to your "Energy Schedule."
On top of that, prime your sleep environment for slumber. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet. If need be, turn on the air conditioning, and wear an eye mask and earplugs to help you fall asleep fast and stay asleep.
Aside from sleep regularity, what you consume during the day and close to bedtime also affects your circadian rhythm.
The RISE app can help you determine when to stop taking sleep-detracting substances so you can head to bed at the right time for you.
Regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster, promotes deep sleep, and recalibrates your circadian rhythm. But exercising too close to your bedtime may be what’s keeping you from dreamland.
According to a 2018 systematic review in the Journal of Sports Medicine, participants who engaged in vigorous exercise less than an hour before sleep spent more time in bed wide awake.
Avoid working out at least one hour before your target bedtime. RISE can help you achieve this when you add the “Earlier Workouts” habit to your energy schedule in the app. Instead of working out late in the day, make room for an evening wind-down as part of your bedtime routine to put you in the right frame of mind for slumber (more on this below).
We’ve all been guilty of staying up way past our sleep time — even when nothing is keeping us from it. Perhaps you’ve been busy all day, and this is the only free time you have to scroll through social media on your cellphone. No matter your excuse, you’re engaging in bedtime procrastination.
An evening wind-down is the perfect pre-sleep routine to help you step away from slumber-distracting tasks and focus on slowing down your body and mind. For example, a hot shower (or a warm bath) helps sync with the natural nighttime drop in your body temperature, boosting your chances of more restful sleep. The warm water dilates the blood vessels near the skin surface, which are then exposed to cool air when you emerge from your shower or bath, cooling your body down rapidly.
Meanwhile, if anxious, stressful thoughts are keeping you from dreamland, the RISE app offers different relaxation techniques to promote mindfulness and calm:
You can personalize your wind-down in the RISE app to your liking. Turn on the in-app notifications to give yourself a heads up on your wind-down 1-2 hours before bed.
Getting the sleep you need isn’t about how to make yourself tired (which, in reality, is redundant since you are most likely already sleep-deprived). Instead, the question you should be asking yourself is, “How can I fall asleep quickly and stay asleep?”
The answer: By understanding your circadian rhythms and developing better sleep hygiene to help you meet your sleep need. But, keep in mind that there would be no sleep hygiene without comprehension of your circadian rhythm.
For example, if you don't know the start of your Melatonin Window, you run the risk of too much light exposure too close to your bedtime. The RISE app helps you estimate when you should start wearing your blue-light blocking glasses to prevent artificial light from suppressing your body’s natural melatonin production. Doing so ensures you’ll have optimal melatonin levels to help you feel sufficiently sleepy by the time your bedtime rolls around. This, in turn, promotes a virtuous cycle of hitting the sack at the best time for your sleep cycle so you can meet your sleep need. Having a firm grasp of your circadian rhythm thus allows you to reap the full benefits of good sleep hygiene.
But remember sleep hygiene isn’t purely about your bedtime routine and sleep habits. Instead, sleep hygiene also includes daytime behaviors that affect your nightly slumber. Practicing the daytime do’s and don’ts per our recommendations above can help you feel sufficiently sleepy when it’s time for bed.
For a more in-depth read on how to improve your sleep hygiene, check out our Sleep Guide.
As you now know, the timing of your bedtime has significant bearing on how “tired” you feel when you hit the sack and how successful you are in meeting your sleep need. Being familiar with the concepts of sleep drive and circadian rhythm, and how the two interact to promote circadian alignment are the key to functioning and feeling your best.
Rather than rely on sleeping pills to solve your sleep problems, we focus on better sleep hygiene geared toward your circadian rhythm to sustainably promote healthy sleep. Get the RISE app today and observe how the amount of time you spend wide awake in bed significantly dwindles and your energy soars.
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