Are you an early bird or a night owl? Or do you not have a regular sleep schedule at all? We're all different when it comes to sleep patterns, but ultimately it comes down to your internal body clock.
Firstly, it is important to set a distinction between the body clock or biological clock, and the circadian rhythm. Though closely related, your body clock (or biological clock) is your internal timing device that affects your sleep, hunger, mood, alertness, and a whole list of other bodily functions.
The circadian rhythm is affected by the body clock. Your unique biological clock, coupled with several external factors, affects the sleep and wakefulness cycle that is part of your daily circadian rhythm.
Despite our bodies’ genetic predispositions toward certain sleep-wake patterns, sometimes life gets in the way. You work late nights at your job, you have jet lag from travelling to a new time zones, or you just find yourself unable to close Netflix until 2am.
For whatever reason, if you have not been getting enough rest, it might be time to re-evaluate what you are doing and reset your sleep-wake cycle altogether.
How to reset your sleep schedule
Set a sleep schedule and stick to it
Want to get up at a fixed hour everyday? Then it’s time to set a strict bed time and train yourself to wake at a certain hour. This process may take a while, so be patient. If you're currently waking later than you'd like, try slowly easing yourself into waking up at a new time, getting up 10 minutes earlier each day until you find what works for you. Ensure you're getting to bed at a reasonable hour and keeping it the same time each night. It can help to use the Ecosa Sleep Calculator to choose times that allow you to get a full sleep cycle.
Ecosa Tip: Make your bedtime routine more enjoyable and your bed space more appealing so sleeping earlier doesn’t feel like a chore. Listen to calming music and stay away from work. Read a good book or try mediation.
Regulate your exposure to light
One of the most important factors that regulate circadian rhythm is light exposure. Our bodies naturally respond to the presence of light, so to help you get up at the desired time every day, make sure you have a light source that gradually wakes you up.
Try leaving your curtains open to let the sunlight in. You can also try to get a light therapy alarm clock to help you get up if natural light won’t work for your sleep schedule. Waking early for work in winter doesn't lend itself to natural light!
It is also important to know when to avoid sources of bright light. Part of setting a good bedtime routine is knowing when to stop looking at your computer screen and put your phone away for the night. The blue light emitted from these devices can mess with your circadian clock and make it harder for you to sleep when you’re trying to start a new sleep-wake pattern.
Watch what time you eat before bed
Eating before bed has a larger impact on sleep quality and internal clock than most people realise. In a study conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Surrey on meal timing and how it regulates human circadian rhythm, ten men’s mealtimes were adjusted to three different schedules and findings show that there is a considerable effect on the synchronisation of their circadian rhythms.
It’s best to stick to a standard mealtime schedule every day. It makes sense that constantly shifting when you eat changes when your body processes food, disrupting the schedule that your bodily functions should run on, making it harder to set a different time for your body to start winding down.
Watch what you eat before bed
Caffeine is a no-no before bed. Caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda, energy drinks, and tea keep you awake at night and prevent you from falling asleep at the desired hour.
It is also best to avoid consuming alcohol before bed. While it can make you drowsy and make you think you'll sleep better, alcohol can result in lighter sleep, leaving you feeling groggy the next day.
In terms of the type of food you consume throughout the day, one study indicates that diets high in saturated fats and low in fibre result in lighter and more disrupted sleep overall. So, while you may not be having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine before bed, your diet could affect how you reset your circadian rhythm. A healthier lifestyle can help you sleep better, overall.
Make sure your bed is comfortable
If you're not getting a great night's sleep, don’t underestimate the importance of a great mattress and bed sheets. The right mattress can prevent back pain through proper spinal alignment, and a great set of sheets and pillowcases can be good for your skin and hair too. Perfecting your sleep environment can make all the difference to your sleep patterns!