How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule: 13 Ways to Make it Happen

To fix your sleep schedule, you need to gradually move your sleep-wake times, stay consistent, and pay attention to light exposure. Here are 13 ways to do it.
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Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Alarm clock propped against pillow and slightly covered by sheet: reset your sleep schedule

Do you find it hard to fall asleep at night and even harder to wake up when the alarm clock goes off? Are you battling sleepiness and lower energy levels during the day? Perhaps your sleep schedule has shifted late into the night, meaning you’re getting out of bed later too, or your schedule is simply non-existent, as you sleep and wake up at different times each day. 

If you're nodding your head, then you might be struggling with an out-of-whack sleep cycle. This means your internal body clock is out of sync with the outside world. Luckily, there is something you can do about it. 

Below, we share what causes your sleep schedule to get thrown off in the first place and dive into 13 ways you can get it back on track. This will help you get enough sleep each night, at the right times for you, so you feel and perform your best come daytime.

Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from a health care professional. While the RISE app is designed to support natural sleep and better sleep hygiene, it does not treat health problems like sleep disorders.


How Does Your Sleep Schedule Work?

Your sleep schedule — or when you feel tired and when you feel awake — is driven by the two laws of sleep: sleep homeostasis and your circadian rhythm. 

Sleep homeostasis is the process of the chemical adenosine building up in our systems all the time we’re awake. It eventually reaches levels where we feel drowsy and get the urge to sleep — also called sleep pressure. Adenosine is then broken down in our bodies while we sleep, meaning we wake up with much lower levels of it, starting the cycle all over again.

Your circadian rhythm, on the other hand, is your body’s internal clock, the roughly 24-cycle that dictates your energy levels, as well as the timing of things like hunger, changes in body temperature, and hormone production. It controls things like when your brain produces melatonin — to make you feel sleepy — and cortisol — to wake you up. 

When these two processes are working in sync, you’ll reach peak sleep pressure and be in an energy dip in your circadian rhythm at the same time, allowing you to fall asleep easily and stay asleep through the night to meet your sleep need — which is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. 

You need to make sure sleep pressure can build sufficiently throughout the day and stay in alignment with your circadian rhythm for the two to work together at bedtime. But many things in life can mess up these two important processes, and one of the most powerful things to watch out for is light exposure. That’s because light is the main factor that influences the timing of your circadian rhythm. 

Here's a quick rundown of how your circadian clock operates relative to light exposure and influences your sleep schedule:

  • Waking up: Natural light (or artificial light) prompts the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located in the hypothalamus, to produce circadian-alerting signals. You can think of the SCN as the general headquarters for your circadian rhythm, controlling everything from your sleep-wake cycle to your energy fluctuations. Light suppresses melatonin production, making you feel more awake.
  • During the day: Your body’s circadian-alerting signals increase steadily throughout the day, except for a temporary energy dip in the afternoon. (The RISE app shows the timing of your daily afternoon dip on the Energy tab.)
  • Late afternoon to night: The circadian signals peak before your bedtime, giving you your “second wind” which we refer to as your evening energy peak in the RISE app. These signals then gradually lose their intensity, making you feel less alert and energetic. Meanwhile, the SCN starts secreting melatonin  two hours before the time when your body wants to sleep. The time when this process starts is scientifically referred to as your body’s dim light melatonin onset (DLMO). Two hours later, you’ll see your Melatonin Window in the RISE app — the window of time in which your body produces peak levels of melatonin. Going to sleep during your Melatonin Window offers the best success for falling asleep fast and staying asleep throughout the night. 

How Does Your Sleep Schedule Get Thrown Off?

As much as your circadian rhythm tries to guide your sleep schedule, life and other factors often get in the way, causing circadian misalignment. Working against your internal clock predisposes you to lower energy levels during the day and even chronic health risks over time. It can also lead to a buildup of sleep debt, which is the amount of sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. 

Below, we share the top causes behind circadian misalignment that are upsetting your sleep schedule.

  • Light exposure: Remember, light has the power to start and stop your circadian clock. Waking up earlier (or later) means the SCN in your brain isn’t receiving morning light and producing circadian alerting signals at its usual time. Subsequently, your circadian rhythm isn't operating at its regular schedule, increasing the risk of circadian misalignment. As a result, you may not feel sleepy when you should be going to bed. Many of us also regularly expose ourselves to artificial bright light too close to bedtime. In fact, a 2019 report listed cell phones as America’s favorite bedside companions. Unfortunately, your gadget’s light exposure inhibits melatonin production and makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
  • Social jetlag: Ever heard of social jetlag? It's a form of circadian misalignment in which a mismatch between your social and biological clocks leads to an irregular sleep-wake cycle. It’s mainly characterized by inconsistent sleep and wake times, such as staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends then abruptly shifting back to an early wake time on Monday mornings. Usually, the aftermath is sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Travel jetlag: Travel jetlag is similar to social jetlag. But, the root cause is differing time zones that throw your biological clock off balance. You may find it challenging to fall asleep or stay awake as your body does its best to catch up to the new time zone.
  • Dietary stimulants: We often overlook the relationship between certain foods and the circadian clock. In some cases, your late-afternoon espresso may be why you’re having trouble falling asleep that night — caffeine can take as long as 12 hours to fully metabolize. Similarly, alcohol consumption incites sleep fragmentation, in which you wake up frequently during the night. Large evening meals can also disrupt your sleep patterns as they cause abdominal discomfort, indigestion, and even acid reflux. All these dietary factors make it harder for you to stick to your usual sleep schedule.
  • Bedtime procrastination: Many of us are guilty of putting off sleep even when there’s nothing out of our control keeping us up — a common phenomenon known as bedtime procrastination. More often than not, our busy schedules leave us with little free time except the window of space before bed. A desire for self-care and downtime then leads to voracious consumption of all kinds of media or other ways of prolonging our bedtime. We become so preoccupied with our electronic devices, or whatever else we are procrastinating with, that we miss our bedtime and end up getting less sleep than we need.
  • Shift work: If you work night shifts, you’ll be living completely out of sync with your body clock, and your sleep schedule will be regularly disrupted if you change shift times often. 
  • Paying down sleep debt: While catching up on sleep is a good thing, if you’re doing so by going to bed earlier or sleeping in later — especially more than one hour — you’ll be disrupting your circadian rhythm and may delay your sleep time the following evening. 
  • Ignoring your chronotype: Your chronotype is your natural preference to go to sleep and wake up earlier or later — you might have heard the terms early bird and night owl. If you’re ignoring your natural preference for sleep-wake times — maybe you’re a night owl forcing yourself to get up early — you’re not only out of sync, you’re also more likely to build up sleep debt. 
  • Daylight saving time: The switch in and out of daylight saving time may not feel like a lot — it’s only one hour after all — but it’s enough to throw off your entire schedule for days, or even weeks. 


How Do I Fix My Sleep Schedule?

You now know your circadian rhythm is the internal clock that governs your sleep schedule, and disrupting it can lead to circadian misalignment. So what can you do to realign your circadian clock and reset your sleep-wake cycle?  Here are 13 tips to get back on track: 

1. Find Out Your Ideal Sleep-Wake Times 

Before you can adjust your sleep schedule, you need to know what exactly you’re aiming for. To find out the best sleep schedule for you, you should to consider: 

  • Your sleep need
  • Your chronotype
  • Your lifestyle — such as work schedule or personal commitments that mean you have to be awake at a certain time 
  • Your Melatonin Window — RISE can tell you when this is each night.  

Aim to find sleep-wake times that fit with your natural preferences, biology, and morning commitments, as well as times that give you enough hours at night to meet your sleep need each night. 

Pro tip: Your sleep-wake times should also take into account sleep efficiency. Add on an extra 30 minutes to an hour to give yourself enough time to fall asleep and still meet your sleep need before your wake-up time. 

We’ve covered more ways to find the best time to go to sleep and wake up for you here. 

2. Gradually Shift Your Sleep Times 

Once you’ve got a sleep schedule to aim for, it’s time to start moving towards it. But don’t make the jump all at once. Not only is this unlikely to be successful — you can’t command your body to sleep at an earlier time if it’s not ready — it may also lead to sleep loss and a build up of sleep debt, making resetting your sleep schedule much harder. 

Instead, gradually shift your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes each day. As well as gradually moving your sleep, move your meal and exercise times to match, too. 

3. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

Once you’ve reached your new sleep schedule, it’s time to be consistent. Aim to wake up and go to sleep at the same times each day. Even hitting the snooze button and sleeping in one or two hours on the weekend can disrupt your circadian rhythm and sleep times the next night, starting the cycle of messing up your sleep schedule all over again. 

4. Nap Strategically 

Naps are usually a great idea. As long as you take them at the right time, and not for too long, naps can help you pay down sleep debt and perk you up during the day. But when you’re trying to reset your sleep schedule, they can be your downfall. 

Napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep come bedtime if you’re trying to bring your sleep schedule forward. So, we’d advise avoiding naps while you’re resetting your sleep schedule, and then keeping naps to your afternoon dip in energy (RISE can tell you when this is each day) once you’re sleeping at your desired time. 

The next tips are all about sleep hygiene. These are the set of sleep habits you can do to help you fall asleep easily and stay asleep all night. But they’re not just nighttime habits, sleep hygiene begins the moment you wake up. Sleep hygiene is essential when trying to reset your routine, but it will also help keep your sleep schedule on track once you’ve got it there. 

5. Be Mindful of Light Exposure

RISE app screenshot showing you when to get and avoid bright light.
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid bright light.

Getting light exposure wrong can be the cause of many sleep problems. Light is a potent circadian disruptor, but if you get it right, it resets your circadian rhythm each day, keeping your sleep schedule to the times you want. Here’s what to do: 

  • Bask in sunlight (or artificial bright light) as soon as possible after waking up: This signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up, especially when you’re traveling in a different time zone. Bright light is also effective in improving sleep at night. A 1993 study showed that bright light therapy reduced sleep fragmentation (you wake up less often during the night) and improved sleep efficiency (you spend more time in bed sleeping) from 77.5% to 90%.
  • Get natural light throughout the day: Four to five hours of natural light has been shown to make you less sensitive to light at night. Try getting outside for exercise or a walk, or working by a window. 
  • Avoid light exposure in the hours before bed: Dim the lights and wear blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bedtime. Research indicates light restriction in the evening, coupled with bright light exposure in the morning, led to earlier sleep and wake times for people with delayed sleep phase syndrome (a late sleep-wake cycle).
  • Make sure light doesn’t disturb your night: Wear an eye mask and use blackout blinds to make your bedroom as dark as possible. If you wake up in the night to use the bathroom, use your phone’s flashlight instead of turning on bright overhead lights. 

RISE can help you manage your light exposure to reset your sleep schedule. The app can tell you the exact times you should be getting and avoiding bright light. It can also remind you to put on blue-light blocking glasses come evening. 

6. Be Careful With Caffeine 

RISE app screenshot showing you when to limit caffeine.
The RISE app can tell you when to limit caffeine.

A cup of coffee is a great way to shake off morning grogginess and kick start your day, but it’s all too easy for caffeine to disrupt your sleep, making you not feel sleepy at your desired bedtime. 

You don’t have to give up caffeine altogether though, you just need to find out your caffeine cutoff time. This is the time of day you should stop drinking coffee — and anything else with caffeine in — to give your body enough time to metabolize it all before bed. 

Your caffeine cutoff time will change each day depending on the timing of your circadian rhythm. RISE predicts this to show you exactly when your last sip of coffee should be. 

That said, if you’re planning to stay up later than usual — for example, if you’re tackling travel jetlag — you can consider a cup of joe. Research indicates combining caffeine with a short nap (no more than 15 minutes) significantly reduces sleepiness to help you feel more awake. 

7. Exercise at the Right Times

Exercising during the day can help you feel sleepy come your ideal bedtime, and if you’re shifting your sleep schedule, you should also be shifting your exercise times to fit. But exercise before bed will actually delay when your body wants to sleep due to the rise in heart rate and body temperature you experience during and after a workout. 

The RISE app can remind you when to get your workout in to get all the sleep-boosting benefits of movement, without pushing back when you feel sleepy if you’re trying to bring your bedtime forward. 

8. Do Challenging Tasks Earlier in the Day 

If you’re trying to move your sleep schedule earlier — perhaps you’ve flown west or you’re a night owl trying to become a morning person — the timing of when you do certain tasks can help. You should schedule more demanding tasks — anything where you have to concentrate, be empathetic, or be at your best — for earlier in the day. This should be done during your first energy peak, you’ll have a second peak in the late afternoon or evening. Save less demanding tasks — think admin, emails, or household chores — for your natural dip in energy in the early afternoon. 

You can also check the RISE app to see when your natural peaks and dips in energy will be and match up your schedule to best suit these. 

9. Avoid Alcohol and Large Meals Too Close to Bedtime

Alcohol and large meals have the power to delay your sleep time and screw up your regular programming. They can also wake you up in the night, leading to a buildup of sleep debt. RISE can help you avoid that by sending you timely reminders on when to stop consuming them. 

10. Schedule an Evening Wind-Down

RISE app screenshot showing you how to personalize your evening wind-down activities.
Personalize your evening wind-down in the RISE app to suit your unique needs and preferences.

An evening wind-down is essential to resetting your sleep schedule and getting a good night’s sleep. It can help you mentally and physically decelerate before bed, which makes falling asleep much easier to do. Without this time to relax and unwind, the prolonged sleep latency (you take longer to fall asleep) may further throw off your sleep schedule. On top of that, an intentionally scheduled wind down before bed is an effective tool to prevent sleep procrastination from sneaking up on you.

RISE can help you customize your evening wind-down to become part of your bedtime routine based on your unique needs and preferences. Go to the “Energy” tab and add the “Evening Routine” habit to your energy schedule. Choose between activities like:

  • Stretch or yoga
  • Meditate
  • Take a hot shower or bath
  • Watch videos or TV (just be careful of light exposure and reach for those blue-light blocking glasses)

11. Review Your Sleep Environment

An optimal sleep environment will help you meet your sleep need when resetting your sleep schedule. Use this checklist to make the necessary adjustments to your bedroom to minimize disruptions to your sleep:

  • Keep it cool: Your core body temperature naturally drops during sleep. As such, a cool bedroom can help simulate this biological change to bring about more restful sleep. Adjust the thermostat to 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit or keep your room cool by using lightweight bedding and opening a window if it’s not too noisy outside.
  • Keep it dark: Relating back to our earlier point on light exposure, you want to keep your bedroom dark — pitch-black is best. Turn off all light sources and invest in blackout curtains (or blinds) and an eye mask.
  • Keep it quiet: You can’t fall asleep if your surroundings are too noisy. Complete silence is golden, and you can achieve this with soundproof windows, curtains, and carpets at home. Block out extra sounds with earplugs. RISE’s in-app Relaxing Sounds can also double as white noise to help you drift off more easily.

12. Use Melatonin Aids (if Necessary)

Sometimes, due to work or social obligations, such as working a night shift or traveling to a different time zone, you can't fall asleep within your Melatonin Window. In such cases, you may want to consider melatonin supplements to help fix your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin supplements can also be useful if you’re trying to make a big change to your sleep schedule. 

Contrary to sleep medicine (that often comes with unintended side effects), melatonin supplements are natural sleep aids to help you fall asleep more easily and meet your sleep need. But it’s still a powerful hormone, so melatonin should only be a short-term solution to adjust your sleep routine, not something you rely on every night to fall asleep. 

The Journal of Sleep Research found that 5 mg of melatonin taken five hours before your DLMO can spark your evening melatonin production 1.5 hours earlier. In fact, the study's participants slept significantly earlier, took less time to fall asleep, and felt more refreshed in the morning.

On the flip side, taking melatonin in the morning delays your sleep patterns. This is useful for those who have to go to bed later than their biological sleep-wake cycle — think night-shift workers or catching a red-eye flight. In any case, take note of your target bedtimes (i.e., earlier or later than usual) if you wish to supplement with melatonin. It’s also recommended to consult a medical professional to learn more about melatonin supplements before adding them to your diet.

We’ve covered how much melatonin you should take here. And if you do decide to use melatonin to make the shift easier, RISE can tell you the best time to do so to feel sleepy by your desired bedtime. 

13. Tips for Shift Workers 

If you work night shifts or your work hours change regularly, getting your sleep on track is tricky — but not impossible. Here’s what to consider: 

  • Be vigilant about light matching your wake schedule: The Journal of Sleep discovered night shift workers who expose themselves to bright light during the night and wear dark goggles when traveling home during the day managed to sync their biological schedules with their work hours. A quick hack is to wear sunglasses when traveling home during the day after a night shift to not wake up your body too much before trying to sleep. 
  • Work shifts that move forward in time: If you have control over your shifts, opt for ones that move forward in time, getting later and later. Your body usually prefers when your circadian rhythm starts operating on a slightly longer cycle than a shorter one. 
  • Gradually shift sleep-wake times to prepare for upcoming shift changes: If you work rotating shifts, start going to sleep earlier or later as you get closer to the switch.  
  • Try light therapy: Research suggests light therapy may improve sleep in shift workers. 

How Long Does it Take to Fix My Sleep Schedule?

You can’t expect your sleep schedule to reset immediately, but how long should you expect it to take? It may take a few days or a few weeks. It depends on a few factors including: 

  • How much you’re trying to change your sleep schedule: If you’re a night owl trying to move your schedule forward by several hours, it will take longer than someone adjusting their sleep-wake times by just one hour. 
  • How quickly you move your sleep-wake times: We advise moving your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes each day, so it will take longer (but be easier) to move things more gradually.  
  • If you’re battling jetlag: If jetlag is the reason your circadian rhythm is out of sync with the outside world, how far you traveled will impact how long it takes to resync. It usually takes one day per time zone you crossed to adjust.

Make Your Sleep Schedule Work for You

If you’ve found yourself sleeping and waking up at times that don’t work for your life, it’s time to reset your sleep schedule. Focus on finding sleep-wake times that allow you to meet your sleep need and gradually move towards them with top-notch sleep hygiene. Remember: everything helps, but light exposure especially is the key to falling asleep when you want and having energy throughout the day.

This is where RISE comes in handy. The app can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can work to be in sync with it and shift it earlier or later. Plus, RISE can remind you when to do important sleep hygiene behaviors — like avoid bright light, limit caffeine, and wind down for bed — to help you get the sleep you need, at the times you want, for better days. 

Summary FAQs

Does pulling an all-nighter reset my sleep schedule?

No, pulling an all-nighter doesn’t reset your sleep schedule. The sleep deprivation will only make it harder to get back on track. Instead, slowly shift your sleep-wake times and maintain good sleep hygiene to reset it. 

How long does it take to fix a sleep schedule?

How long it takes to reset your sleep schedule will all depend on how much you’re trying to move it by. Shift your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes each day until you reach your desired schedule. 

How do I fix my sleep schedule overnight?

It’s hard to reset your sleep schedule overnight, but improving your sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep at a better time for you.

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