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How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule: 18 Expert-Approved Tips

To fix your sleep schedule, gradually move your sleep-wake times, get light in the morning, and avoid light in the evenings.
Published
2021-06-14
Updated
2023-12-12
25 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
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Here's How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule: 

  • Fix your sleep schedule by gradually shifting your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days, getting bright light in the mornings and daytime, and avoiding light in the evenings.
  • Earlier exercise, avoiding daytime naps, and caffeine, large meals, and alcohol before bed, having a relaxing bedtime routine, and a morning routine you look forward to can all help, too.
  • Use the RISE app to get personalized recommendations for the ideal sleep schedule for you, and behaviors that can help you get there.

Whether your sleep schedule has drifted late into the night and morning, or you don’t have a consistent sleep pattern at all, the good news is: you can fix it. 

With a few simple yet science-backed behaviors, you can work to gradually move your sleep schedule earlier or later — and then keep it there. 

All this will help you fall asleep easier each night and enjoy more energy, health, and mental focus each day. 

Below, we’ll dive into how to fix your sleep schedule and share how the RISE app can make it happen. 

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“Fixing your sleep schedule isn’t easy, but it is doable. The most important thing to focus on is light exposure. Get out in sunlight as soon as you wake up, spend more time in daylight during the day, and make your evenings and nights as dark as you can. This will keep your body clock, and therefore sleep cycle, running smoothly.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule?

Before we dive right into the tips, you need to know about one factor controlling your sleep schedule: your circadian rhythm. 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates when your body wants to wake up and go to sleep. 

When you’re resetting your sleep schedule, you’re really shifting the timing of your circadian clock forward or backward, which shifts the times you’ll feel sleepy and alert. 

Let’s dive into how to reset your sleep schedule: 

1. Find Out Your Ideal Sleep-Wake Times 

Before you start the work of fixing your sleep schedule, you’ve got to know what you’re aiming for. 

To find the best sleep times for you, consider:

  • Your sleep need: The genetically determined amount of sleep you need. RISE can work this out for you based on proprietary sleep-science-based models and a year’s worth of your phone use behavior.
  • Your chronotype: Whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between. 
  • Your lifestyle: Think about your work schedule or personal commitments that mean you have to be awake at a certain time. 

It’s worth finding out your sleep need as it may be longer than you think. When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users, we found the median sleep need was eight hours, but 48% of users needed eight hours or more sleep a night. Some even needed 11 hours and 30 minutes of shut-eye.

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users, we found the median sleep need was eight hours, but 48% of users needed eight hours or more sleep a night. Some even needed 11 hours and 30 minutes of shut-eye.
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.

Ideally, you’d aim for sleep-wake times that fit with your natural preferences, biology, and morning commitments, as well as times that give you enough hours in bed to meet your sleep need each night. 

Pro tip: Your sleep-wake times should take into account sleep efficiency, the measure of how much time you spend sleeping in bed. Because of the time it takes to fall asleep and the time you spend awake during the night, the amount of time you’re in bed isn’t the same as the amount of time you spend asleep. 

Set your wake time and count back with your sleep need. 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. 

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

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2. Shift Your Sleep Times by 15 to 30 Minutes 

Once you’ve got a sleep schedule to aim for, you can start moving toward 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, making resetting your sleep schedule much harder. 

Instead, gradually shift your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days. 

Expert tip: As well as gradually moving your sleep time, move your meal and exercise times by the same amount and in the same direction. This will help your body adjust faster.

3. Use RISE’s Smart Schedule Feature 

RISE app screenshot showing your ideal bedtime
The RISE app can tell your ideal bedtime each night.

Take the guesswork out of finding the ideal bedtime. Tell the RISE app your goal wake-up time and it can suggest a target bedtime based on your sleep need and how much sleep debt you have (this is the amount of sleep you owe your body).

This bedtime will gently shift to train your body to get enough sleep and move your sleep schedule closer to your desired times.

4. Get Light Exposure in the Morning  

Light is the most powerful signal to your circadian rhythm. Early light exposure can bring it forward, whereas late-night light exposure can push it back. 

Our top tip? Get out in sunlight as soon as possible after waking up. This will reset your circadian rhythm for the day, helping you feel awake that morning and sleepy that evening. 

Spend 10 minutes out in natural light, or 15 to 20 minutes if it’s overcast or you’re getting light through a window. 

If it’s dark out when you wake up, a 10,000 lux light therapy lamp is the next best thing. Sit about 16 to 24 inches from a lamp for 30 minutes in the morning. 

Expert tip: Want to go to sleep and wake up earlier? Slowly shift the time you get morning light earlier as you shift your wake times earlier. 

5. Get Light Exposure During the Day 

Light is powerful during the day, too. The more light you get during the day (especially sunlight), the less sensitive you’ll be to light in the evenings. So the less it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and push back your sleep schedule. 

Try working by a window, spending your lunch break outside, and going for a walk after work. 

6. Avoid Light Exposure in the Evenings 

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

Evening light pushes back your sleep cycle and suppresses melatonin production, meaning you’ll have a harder time falling asleep. 

One study looked at participants with delayed sleep phase syndrome, when your sleep cycle is abnormally delayed compared to the light-dark cycle of the outside world. Two hours of bright light exposure in the morning and light restriction in the evening helped advance their circadian rhythms, so they could fall asleep and wake up earlier.

About 90 minutes before bedtime, dim the lights and wear blue-light blocking glasses. Be careful of late-night screen time cutting into your sleep time and pushing back bedtime.

And don’t forget about light when you fall asleep. 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, keep the lights off or as low as possible. A red light night light can be useful if you need light at night, as red light is less disruptive to your melatonin production.

To nail the timings, RISE can tell you when exactly to get and avoid light each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get and avoid bright light reminders. 

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7. Avoid Caffeine About 12 Hours Before Bed

A cup of coffee is a great way to wake up in the morning. But it’s all too easy for caffeine to keep you up at night, making it hard to fall asleep at your new bedtime. 

Aim to be done with coffee — and anything else with caffeine in it — 12 hours before bed. Make this time earlier and earlier if you’re shifting your bedtime earlier. 

We’ve covered when to stop drinking coffee here. And RISE can remind you when to have your final coffee each day, so you don’t accidentally sip coffee too late in the afternoon. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

8. Exercise in the Morning or Daytime, But Not Before Bed 

We all know regular exercise is good for our waistlines, but it can help us get better sleep, too. 

Working out can help us fall asleep faster, wake up less often in the night, and even improve insomnia. Plus, research suggests high-intensity exercise during the day can increase sleepiness at night.

And when you work out can make a difference to your sleep schedule. 

A 2019 study asked participants to do one hour of moderate exercise at one of eight different times throughout the day and night. Those who worked out at 7 a.m. and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. had the biggest shift in their circadian rhythms moving earlier. 

Intense exercise within an hour of bedtime may have the opposite effect, however, pushing your sleep schedule back and keeping you awake. 

We’ve covered the best time to work out here. RISE can tell you when exactly to avoid late workouts if you’re shooting for an earlier bedtime. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

9. Avoid Large Meals Two to Three Hours Before Bed 

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to have your last large meal
The RISE app can tell you when to avoid large meals.

When you eat also has an impact on your circadian rhythm. Late meals can push back your circadian rhythm, and eating too close to bedtime can cause digestive issues that make it harder to fall asleep. And if you don’t get enough sleep, it’ll be harder to stick to your new wake-up time. 

To stop this from happening, aim to be done with dinner two to three hours before bed

Shift your meal times with your sleep times. And consistent meal times can keep your sleep schedule on track once you’ve reset it. 

RISE can tell you when to avoid large meals each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder.

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10. Avoid Alcohol Three to Four Hours Before Bed 

Alcohol may make you feel drowsy at first, but it can seriously mess with your sleep. 

It can fragment your shut-eye, meaning you wake up in the middle of the night, and it suppresses rapid-eye-movement sleep (or REM sleep), which is needed for emotional processing and creativity. 

To get a good night’s sleep and keep your sleep schedule on track, stop drinking alcohol three to four hours before bed

11. Have a Morning Routine You Look Forward to 

Getting out of bed isn’t always easy, especially if you’re trying to shift your usual wake-up time. 

To help, create a morning routine you want to get out of bed for. 

Try: 

  • Enjoying a cup of coffee in the garden 
  • Going for a walk with a favorite playlist or podcast
  • Having breakfast with a family member
  • Going to your favorite gym class or running route 

12. Do Challenging Tasks Earlier in the Day 

RISE app screenshot showing energy peak and dips
The RISE app can tell you when your peaks and dips in energy will be.

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 make the shift. 

Schedule more demanding tasks — including anything where you have to concentrate, be empathetic, or be at your best — for earlier in the day. 

Save less demanding tasks — think admin, emails, or household chores — for your natural dip in energy in the early afternoon. 

RISE can predict when your natural peaks and dips in energy will be, making it easier to schedule your day. In fact, this is the most popular feature on the RISE app.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.

13. Do a Relaxing Bedtime Routine 

Doing a relaxing bedtime routine is useful for everyone, but especially for those who are trying to go to sleep earlier than usual. 

Take an hour or so before bed to wind down and set yourself for sleepiness. Try reading, listening to music, or doing yoga. 

Having a go-to pre-sleep routine can also help if you’re prone to watching just one more Netflix episode and blowing past bedtime. 

14. Avoid Naps, Or Keep Them Early and Short 

Naps are usually a great idea. As long as you take them at the right time, and you don’t snooze for too long, naps can help you pay down sleep debt and perk you up during the day, without affecting your ability to fall asleep at night. 

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. 

15. Make Sure Your Bedroom is Cool, Dark, and Quiet 

Whether you’re trying to fall asleep earlier or sleep in later, you don’t want anything in your sleep environment getting in the way. 

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 before and during sleep. So a cool bedroom can help simulate this biological change to help you fall asleep. Adjust the thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or keep your room cool by using lightweight bedding and opening a window if it’s not too noisy outside. We’ve covered more ways to keep cool while you sleep here.
  • 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.

RISE can remind you to check your bedroom each night before you crawl into bed.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their check environment habit reminder.

16. Use Melatonin Supplements (if Necessary)

Melatonin supplements can help you feel sleepy when you usually wouldn’t and shift the timing of your sleep cycle. 

We don’t recommend taking melatonin every night, but they can be useful when: 

  • Shifting your sleep schedule
  • Treating jet lag 
  • Adjusting to shift work 

Research shows 5 milligrams of melatonin taken five hours before when your body would usually start producing melatonin can shift your natural evening production of melatonin about 1.5 hours earlier. This helped participants fall asleep earlier, fall asleep faster, and feel 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 when you’re catching a red-eye flight.

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 at bedtime. 

Pro tip: Avoid traditional sleep aids. They may help you fall asleep when you want to, but they come with side effects, next-day sleepiness, and cause sleep problems when you stop taking them. 

17. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule 

RISE app screenshot showing smart alarm
The RISE app can wake you up earlier with a gentle alarm.

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. 

Need more motivation to get up when your alarm clock first rings? A 2022 study found hitting snooze prolongs sleep inertia (or morning grogginess) compared to using a single alarm.

What’s more, our RISE app data shows that those who have low sleep debt (five hours or less) have more consistent sleep-wake times than those who do not have low sleep debt. 

To resist the lure of the snooze button, try RISE’s alarm feature. It wakes you up with melodic sounds or your choice of music, and gentle Apple watch or phone vibrations. 

When you turn it off, RISE kicks you straight to your favorite app for 15 minutes of guilt-free phone time. This way, you can wake up slowly and don’t drift back off to sleep. 

18. Bonus 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: One study 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 circadian rhythms 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. It’s easier to delay your sleep schedule than bring it forward. 
  • 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 30 minutes of light therapy may improve sleep in shift workers, and help improve anxiety and depression, too.

Heads-up: Many of the tips in this article are part of something called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the set of behaviors you can do to fall asleep faster, wake up less often in the night, and get natural, healthy sleep. All this will help you more easily get onto and stick to your ideal sleep schedule.

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep habits and the right time for you. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

How Long Does it Take to Adjust to a New Sleep Schedule?

It can take some time to adjust to a new sleep schedule. It may take a few days or a few weeks. 

How long it takes you to adjust will all depend on: 

  • How much you’re trying to change your sleep schedule: If you’re a night owl trying to move your schedule back 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 in 15-to-30-minute increments every few days. If you make smaller shifts, it will take longer — but it will be easier to adjust and stick to your new schedule. 
  • Which direction you’re trying to move your sleep schedule: Delaying your sleep schedule tends to be quicker than bringing it forward. This is because evening light is so powerful at pushing your circadian rhythm back. 
  • If you’re battling jet lag: If jet lag is the reason your sleep schedule needs fixing, how far you traveled will impact how long it takes to adjust. It usually takes one day per time zone you crossed to adjust.

Why Do Our Sleep Schedules Get Off Track?

Many things in life that can throw off your sleep schedule. Here’s what could be to blame: 

  • Light exposure: Light can bring forward or push back your circadian rhythm, depending on when you get it. If you stay up late with artificial light and electronic devices, this can throw off your sleep schedule and result in a later bedtime.
  • Social jet lag: Social jet lag is when your biological clock doesn’t match your social clock. You might get up and go to sleep at one time during the work week, and then hours later at the weekend (which about 87% of us do).
  • Travel jet lag: Travel jet lag is similar to social jet lag. But the root cause is differing time zones throwing 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: Coffee or energy drinks can keep you up past bedtime, throwing your hard-won sleep pattern off. And beyond caffeine, alcohol and large meals can mess with your sleep, making it harder to stick to your sleep schedule. 
  • Bedtime procrastination: Many of us are guilty of putting off sleep, even when there’s nothing in particular keeping us up. This is known as bedtime procrastination. We watch Netflix or scroll on our phones late into the night, then struggle to sleep and wake up on schedule. 
  • Stress and anxiety: RISE users say stress and anxiety are the biggest factors getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. They can keep you up and wake you up in the night, leaving you with sleep debt or irregular sleep times. 
  • 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: Sleep debt is the sleep you’ve missed out on recently. 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 going against your natural preference for sleep-wake times — maybe you’re a night owl forcing yourself to be a morning person — you may struggle to stick to this sleep schedule. 
  • 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. 

If you regularly have sleep problems or struggle to stick to a sleep schedule, reach out to a healthcare professional or sleep specialist. They can test for underlying medical conditions or sleep disorders that could be to blame. 

Will Pulling an All-Nighter Fix My Sleep Schedule?

Pulling an all-nighter will not fix your sleep schedule. In fact, it could make your sleep patterns even worse.

If you stay up all night, you’ll build up some serious sleep deprivation and disrupt your circadian rhythm further. You might sleep for longer the next night or take an accidental daytime nap, and then struggle to fall asleep the following night. 

Either way, it’s better for your body if you reset your sleep schedule slowly. Try making 15-to-30-minute adjustments to your sleep times to get your sleep back on track. 

We turned to our sleep advisor Dr. Chester Wu again for his expert take:

“Pulling an all-nighter isn’t a quick fix for resetting your sleep schedule. Make slow and gradual changes to your sleep-wake times to avoid more sleep loss and to have a better chance of sticking to your new schedule.” Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

Why is a Sleep Schedule Important?

Getting enough sleep overall is key for your health, focus, and energy. But getting this sleep on a regular schedule is also important. 

When you have a regular sleep schedule, you’ll most likely be in sync with your circadian rhythm. This will mean you’ll have an easier time falling asleep and waking up.

It’s also good news for your energy levels. Research shows those with regular sleep patterns feel more alert than those with irregular patterns, even if both groups get enough sleep.

And there are major health benefits. Being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can lead to poor physical and mental health as it ups your odds of conditions like cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and cancer. 

Expert tip: It’s not just a regular sleep schedule that protects your health. Research from 2023 found a disrupted circadian rhythm from ill-timed light exposure and food consumption can mess up your hormones and metabolism.

Fix Your Sleep Schedule to Get More Energy 

If you’ve found yourself sleeping and waking up at times that don’t work for you, it’s time to fix your sleep schedule. 

Shift your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days until you reach your desired schedule. And focus on key habits like getting light in the mornings and daytime, and avoiding it in the evenings to make the shift.

This is where the RISE app comes in handy. RISE can take the guesswork out of your new sleep schedule by suggesting a smart bedtime each night that gently trains your body to get the hours of sleep you need at the right times for you. 

Plus, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits, including when to get and avoid bright light, to help make falling asleep and waking up on schedule easier. 

Shifting your sleep schedule takes time, but you don’t need to wait long to feel the benefits — 80% of RISE users have more energy within five days.

FAQs

How to fix your sleep schedule

Fix your sleep schedule by gradually shifting your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days, getting bright light in the mornings and daytime, and avoiding light in the evenings.

How to fix your sleep schedule in one day

Fixing your sleep schedule in one day is difficult, especially if you’re trying to move your sleep-wake times by a large amount. Focus on getting light in the morning and daytime and avoiding it in the evening. If you can take longer to adjust, move your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days.

I can’t fix my sleep schedule

If you can’t fix your sleep schedule, focus on making smaller changes. Try shifting your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days. Light is also the most powerful tool when it comes to shifting your sleep schedule. Get light in the morning and during the daytime and avoid it in the evenings.

Bad sleeping schedule symptoms

If you’ve got a bad sleep schedule, you’ll have symptoms like daytime sleepiness, trouble falling asleep, waking up often in the middle of the night, and poor mood and focus.

How long does it take to fix my sleep schedule?

It can take a while to fix your sleep schedule. It may take days or weeks, depending on how much you’re trying to change your sleep-wake times and which direction you’re trying to shift them (delaying tends to be quicker than advancing). Shift your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days to help your body adjust slowly and have a better chance of sticking to the new schedule.

What is the ideal sleep schedule?

The ideal sleep schedule is one that allows you to get enough sleep at the right times for your body clock, and one that you can stick to consistently.

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