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? If you're nodding your head, then you might be struggling with an out-of-whack sleep cycle, a high sleep debt, or a combination of the two.
We all have a central biological clock that regulates the circadian rhythm dictating our natural sleep and wake preferences. When your sleep-wake cycle is running smoothly, you have no trouble entering dreamland and getting the amount of sleep your body needs. Unfortunately, modern life tends to mess up your sleep patterns and incite circadian misalignment.
Understanding the relationship between your internal clock and sleep-wake cycle is the first step to acknowledging your sleep problems. Only when you’ve understood the root causes behind your circadian misalignment will you be able to learn how to reset your sleep schedule.
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.
Light serves as one of the most important cues for your circadian rhythm (i.e., your internal clock), leading to a trickle-down effect on all bodily functions, including your propensity for sleep. Here's a quick rundown of how your circadian clock operates relative to light exposure and influences your sleep schedule:
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 not only leads to a high sleep debt but also predisposes you to lower energy levels during the day and even chronic health risks over time. Below, we share the top causes behind circadian misalignment that are upsetting your sleep schedule.
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.
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 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.
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 10 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.
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.
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? It's all about good sleep hygiene.
At Rise Science, we emphasize the importance of good sleep hygiene — something that isn’t possible without taking into account your circadian rhythm. Timing behaviors to your biology will help you effectively reset your sleep schedule. Besides that, we show you how sleep hygiene isn’t solely a sum of your nighttime habits; it’s also dependent on your daytime behaviors. Understanding that your days inform your nights, and vice versa, is key to establishing a virtuous cycle of better sleep for better wakefulness.
Whether you want to work your way around travel jetlag or keep up with a shift-work timetable, the RISE app offers easy-to-follow sleep hygiene tips tailored to your unique chronobiology. The result? Healthy, naturalistic sleep at night for better energy during the day.
Consistency is key when it comes to resetting your sleep schedule (and also key once its reset). Regular sleep patterns help recalibrate your body clock and promote circadian alignment (again — this is essential for getting quality sleep). Here’s how to keep it consistent:
To help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night, align your new sleep schedule with your Melatonin Window — you can view it on your energy schedule in the RISE app. Knowing your optimal window of time for falling asleep helps you plan your day ahead to hit the sack at your biological bedtime.
Just like how light is a potent circadian disruptor, it can also play a key role in resetting your sleep schedule. Bask in sunlight (or artificial bright light) the moment you rouse to signal 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%.
But you should avoid light exposure in the hours before bed or wear blue-light blocking glasses. 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).
That said, you can make evening light exposure work for you if you’re a night-shift worker. 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.
RISE can help you manage your light exposure to reset your sleep schedule. Go to the “Energy” tab in the app and add the “Block All Blue Light” habit to your energy schedule. Turn on the in-app reminders so you don’t forget to wear your blue-light blocking glasses in the few hours before bed.
As previously mentioned, caffeine, alcohol, and large meals have the power to delay your sleep time and screw up your regular programming. RISE can help you avoid that by sending you timely reminders on when to stop consuming them. Go to the “Energy” tab and add the following habits to your energy schedule:
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.
An evening wind-down is essential to resetting your sleep schedule. If you don’t mentally and physically decelerate before bed, you will likely not fall asleep. As you can imagine, 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:
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:
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. 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.
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.
Learning how to reset your sleep schedule is about “sleep” habits that span both night and day. This is because straightening out your sleep-wake cycle also involves your daytime behaviors, which incidentally comes under the wide umbrella of sleep hygiene — an umbrella that also encompasses your circadian rhythm (which is to say, the timing of behaviors to your chronobiology is key).
This is where RISE comes in handy. The app helps you navigate your biological rhythm with understanding and ease to reap the full benefits of good sleep hygiene. Once you’ve identified the root causes behind an off-balance circadian clock, you’re now poised to reset your sleep schedule with RISE to better adhere to life’s demands and feel good throughout the day.
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