RISE Sleep Tracker
One of Apple's Best Apps of 2024
★★★★★
(20,627)
TRY FREE

How and When to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm

Reset your circadian rhythm by slowly shifting your sleep times, getting light first thing, and avoiding light, meals, and exercise too close to bedtime.
Published
2021-07-22
Updated
2023-06-06
14 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Rise Science Scientific 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.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Man waking up feeling refreshed after resetting his circadian rhythm

How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm 

  • You may need to reset your circadian rhythm if you’re feeling low on energy during the day and struggling to sleep at night. 
  • Reset your circadian rhythm by gradually shifting your sleep-wake times, getting light as early as you can in the morning, and avoiding light close to bedtime. 
  • The RISE app can take the guesswork out of it by telling you when to get and avoid light each day, as well as when to avoid other behaviors that mess with your circadian rhythm, like eating and exercise.

Feeling sluggish all day, yet wired at night? You may need to reset your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s internal clock that controls when you feel sleepy and when you feel alert. 

While your circadian rhythm is always ticking away inside your body, you can get out of sync with it with an irregular sleep schedule or night shift work, for example. Luckily, you can also reset it and get your sleep schedule, energy levels, and overall health back on track. 

Below, we’ll dive into what the circadian rhythm is, when you might need to reset it, and how to reset it naturally. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can make resetting your circadian rhythm easy. 

Advice from a sleep scientist:

“To reset your circadian rhythm, focus on light and when you get exposed to it. Get out in sunlight as soon as you can in the morning for at least 10 minutes, prioritize getting out in daylight throughout the day, and then make your evenings and nights dark.”

Rise Science Advisor and Co-Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University Dr. Jamie Zeitzer

What is Circadian Rhythm?

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Your circadian rhythm is your internal biological clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates when your body wants to sleep and wake up, when your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day, when you make certain hormones, and when your body temperature and blood pressure naturally fluctuate.  

But there’s more than just one body clock at work. 

There’s a central clock — known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) — found in the hypothalamus of the brain. And then there are clocks in almost every tissue and organ system in your body. These are called peripheral clocks, and they can be found in places like your gut, immune system, and liver.  

The SCN is synchronized to the light-dark cycle of the outside world and it communicates this time with the peripheral clocks keeping them aligned to each other and the outside world. Together, all of these clocks tell your body when the best times are to eat, sleep, be alert, and so on. 

Your circadian rhythm follows a roughly 24-hour cycle. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6123576/


Everyone’s circadian rhythm will look roughly the same, but the timing will be different depending on your chronotype. Your chronotype is whether you’re an early bird, night owl, or something in between. Morning people have earlier circadian rhythms, whereas night owls' rhythms run later. 

Not sure what you are? We’ve covered how to find out your chronotype here.

Your circadian rhythm also changes with age. Teenagers’ circadian rhythms tend to skew later, while older adults’ rhythms tend to skew earlier. So, we naturally become more of an earlier riser as we age — and your teen’s tendency to lay in isn’t laziness.  

RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day and show you a simple visualization of it in the app. You can then see when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep, and when your peaks and dips in energy will most likely be throughout the day.

Finding out the timings of daily energy peaks and dips is the most popular feature among RISE users.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

{{ cta }}

Can You Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?

Yes, you can reset your circadian rhythm. Resetting your circadian rhythm simply means resetting when your body naturally wants to go to sleep up and wake up. 

The timing of your circadian rhythm can be changed by zeitgebers, which is German for time-givers. Zeitgebers tell your circadian rhythm what time it is outside your body. 

They can either reinforce the timing of your circadian rhythm (i.e. confirm it’s running on time) or shift the timing earlier or later in the 24-hour cycle. 

Zeitgebers include: 

  • Light (the most powerful one) 
  • Eating 
  • Exercising 

One illuminating study took participants camping for a week and exposed them to natural light only. Without laptop or smartphone screens or artificial light, their circadian clocks adjusted to match the light-dark cycle of the outside world. 

What’s even more impressive is that night owls showed the biggest changes. Their circadian rhythms shifted to look more like those of early birds. So, while night owls do exist, some extreme night owls may be that way because of bad habits like late-night light exposure.  

We turned to sleep researcher Dr. Jamie Zeitzer again for backup. 

“Your circadian rhythm isn’t set in stone. You can change the timing of it with cues like light exposure. For example, early morning light brings your circadian rhythm forward, whereas late-night light exposure pushes it back.” 

How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits daily.

Now you know what your circadian rhythm is and that it’s possible to reset it, here’s how to get it back on track

{{ video }}

  • Shift your bedtime and wake times gradually: Move your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days. This will give your circadian rhythm a chance to adjust to the gradual changes. Once you’ve reached your ideal schedule, be consistent with your sleep routine. 
  • Shift your meal times: Shift meal times in the same direction as your sleep patterns and by the same amount. Avoid eating two to three hours before bed as this can disrupt your sleep, making it harder to stick to your new schedule. Consistency with meal times can also help keep your circadian rhythm in check once you’ve reset it. 
  • Get bright light first thing: This resets your circadian rhythm for the day. Aim for at least 10 minutes of sunlight, or 15 to 20 minutes if it’s overcast or you’re getting light through a window. Once you’ve shifted your schedule, be consistent with when you get this early light. 
  • Consider bright light therapy: This can help those with a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. A sleep specialist can prescribe bright light therapy to shift your circadian rhythm. As a DIY option, you can try a 10,000 lux light therapy lamp, which is useful if it’s dark out when you wake up. Sit about 16 to 24 inches from a lamp for 30 minutes in the morning. Slowly shift the time you get this light earlier as you shift your wake times. 
  • Get daylight during the day: The more light you get during the day, especially daylight, the less sensitive you’ll be to light at night, and so the less evening light can disrupt your circadian rhythm. 
  • Avoid light in the evenings: Light suppresses your sleep hormone melatonin and, when you get it in the evening, it pushes back your circadian rhythm. About 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses
  • Create a morning routine you look forward to: Getting up earlier can be hard. Plan morning activities you enjoy and activities that can wake you up faster. This could include having a cup of coffee, going for a run or walk, or doing yoga. Even if you’re usually a night owl, try scheduling your most challenging tasks for the day in the morning. This will help the earlier schedule stick. 
  • Exercise during the day: A 2019 study found early morning or during the day exercise can help shift your circadian rhythm earlier. Just be sure to avoid intense workouts within an hour of bedtime as this can keep you up.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol too late in the day: Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep, which can mess with your circadian rhythm. Avoid caffeine about 12 hours before bed and alcohol three to four hours before bed. RISE can tell you exactly when to avoid each one daily. 
  • Take a melatonin supplement: We don’t encourage taking melatonin every night, but it can be useful when you’re trying to make a big change to your sleep schedule. Taken at the right time, melatonin can help you feel sleepy when you usually wouldn’t and either bring forward or push back your circadian rhythm. We’ve covered more on when to take melatonin here.
  • Use the RISE app: Pick a goal wake time with RISE’s smart schedule feature. The app will then give you a smart bedtime goal each night that gently shifts and trains your body to get the sleep you need on an earlier schedule. 

Beyond these key steps, it’s important to maintain good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the set of habits you can do to get a good night’s sleep. With good sleep hygiene, you’ll have an easier time falling asleep at your desired bedtime, keeping your circadian rhythm on track. 

Many of the habits above are a part of good sleep hygiene, such as getting light in the morning, and avoiding light, caffeine, intense exercise, and alcohol too close to bedtime. 

RISE can walk you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the best time to do each one to make them more effective. 

Heads-up: It’s tempting to pull an all-nighter to fix your sleep schedule. But this won’t help. It’ll only give you more sleep deprivation, make you feel more sleepy, and further disrupt your circadian rhythm. Skip the all-nighter and focus on shifting your sleep-wake cycle in 15-to-30-increments instead. 

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

When to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

You might want to reset your circadian rhythm if: 

  • You feel sleepiness throughout the day
  • You struggle to sleep at night
  • Your sleep-wake times don’t match your lifestyle 

Sleep problems and low energy are the most obvious reasons to reset your circadian rhythm. But being in circadian alignment (when your sleep-wake times and mealtimes match when your body wants to sleep and eat) isn’t just good news for your sleep and energy. 

Being in sync lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. And research from 2023 found a disrupted circadian rhythm from mis-timed light exposure and food consumption can mess up your hormones and metabolism. 

Being in sync with your circadian rhythm can also make keeping your sleep debt low easier. Sleep debt is how much sleep you’ve missed out on recently. It’s compared against your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. 

Low sleep debt equals better energy, productivity, mood, and health (we recommend keeping your sleep debt below 5 hours to feel and function your best).  

{{ cta-mini }}

Heads-up: We all have different sleep needs. When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found they ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours, but 48% of users need eight hours of sleep or more.

You might be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if: 

  • You work night shifts or rotating shifts 
  • You’ve got social jet lag — or an irregular sleep schedule 
  • You’re living at odds with your chronotype — like when a night owl needs to wake up early for work 
  • You’re adjusting to a new time zone 

For more tips on how to reset your circadian rhythm, we’ve covered advice for specific situations, including: 

RISE can work out your individual sleep need and whether you’ve got any sleep debt. 

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

{{ cta-mini }}

How Long Does it Take to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?

Your circadian rhythm resets every 24 hours. But if you’re trying to shift the timing of it, it may take longer. 

How long it takes to shift the timing of your circadian rhythm will all depend on how much you’re trying to shift it by. We recommend moving your sleep-wake times by no more than 15 to 30 minutes every few days until you reach your ideal schedule. 

It may take a few days or weeks for your body to fully adjust. But shifting your circadian rhythm gradually will give you the best chance of sticking to your new schedule, without sacrificing sleep or daytime energy

In a rush and want to reset your sleep schedule overnight? Focus on sleep hygiene habits. These habits will give you the best chance of falling asleep when your body naturally wants to.  

What Are Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders?

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders are disorders that affect your circadian rhythm, and therefore the timing of your sleep. 

They include: 

  • Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: When your sleep is abnormally late compared to the light-dark cycle.
  • Advanced sleep-wake phase disorder: When your sleep is abnormally early compared to the light-dark cycle.
  • Shift work sleep disorder: When you work shifts and feel sleepy at work and alert when you need to sleep. 
  • Jet lag disorder: When you travel to a different time zone and your body takes a while to adjust to the new timing. 
  • Irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder: When your sleep schedule doesn’t have a pattern and you take several naps over a 24-hour period. This disorder is often seen in older individuals and those with Alzheimer’s or a brain injury. 

The best way to fix a circadian rhythm sleep disorder is to speak to your doctor or a sleep specialist. They’ll be able to recommend lifestyle changes, like improving your sleep hygiene, and treatments, like light therapy and melatonin. 

Reset Your Circadian Rhythm with RISE 

If you’re suffering from low daytime energy and trouble sleeping, it may be time to reset your circadian rhythm. Shift your sleep-wake times gradually, get light early in the morning and during the day, and then avoid it before bed. 

Tuning into your circadian rhythm isn’t exactly second nature — and this is where the RISE app can help. 

RISE predicts the timing of your circadian rhythm based on algorithms, your recent sleep times, and your inferred light exposure. The app will then show you a visualization of what your circadian rhythm looks like, so you can sync up your daily life to it and work to shift it earlier or later, depending on your lifestyle and work schedule. 

To help make that happen, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep habits. These sleep hygiene habits will give you the best chance of meeting your sleep need with natural healthy sleep and staying in sync with your circadian rhythm. 

Resetting your circadian rhythm is a gradual process, but each small step you take to sync up and get more sleep can have big benefits. In fact, 80% of RISE users feel more energy within five days.

FAQs

Reset circadian rhythm

Shift your sleep-wake times gradually, get light first thing in the morning and during the day, and then avoid light, caffeine, intense exercise, and alcohol too close to bedtime. Light is the most powerful signal to your circadian rhythm to help reset it, so getting the timing right is key.

Reset circadian rhythm with sunlight

Sunlight is the most powerful signal to your circadian rhythm to tell it what time of day or night it is. To reset your circadian rhythm, get natural light as soon as possible in the morning and then throughout the day. Avoid light in the evenings and make your nights as dark as possible.

How can I reset my circadian rhythm naturally?

You can reset your circadian rhythm naturally by slowly shifting your sleep-wake times and practicing good sleep hygiene, especially the timing of your light exposure.

How do I reset my circadian rhythm with melatonin?

Melatonin supplements can change the timing of your circadian rhythm, helping you go to sleep and wake up earlier or later than usual. Take melatonin in the morning to feel sleepier later, and take it in the afternoon or a few hours before bed to feel sleepier earlier. Speak to your doctor or a sleep specialist to get the best dosage for you.

How long does it take to reset your circadian rhythm?

How long it takes to reset your circadian rhythm will all depend on how much you’re trying to move it by and how quickly you’re doing it. We recommend shifting your sleep-wake times by 15 to 30 minutes every few days until you reach your ideal schedule. It may take a few days or weeks for your body to fully adjust.

Sleep better. Sell more.

Learn more about Rise for sales teams.

Thanks! We received your information. You'll hear from us shortly.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Circadian Rhythm

View all
Try 7 days free

The power behind your next best day

RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential

RISE app iconApp store icon