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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
Learn more about Rise for sales teams.
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential