Are you exhausted? According to recent studies, more than a third of Americans are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Sleep deprivation is having devastating short- and long-term effects on our health and well-being by increasing our risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and mental distress.
Sleep is absolutely vital to your wellbeing and mood. It’s time to make this a priority and start experiencing the benefits that come from a good night’s sleep like being more productive at work, happier and even having better sex.
Why our sleep schedules get thrown off.
One of the biggest reasons why our sleep schedules get thrown off is because we do it to ourselves. That's right — we blame nature, but really, we're the ones contributing to the problem. Mainly, we don't keep regular hours — on weekends, we stay out late and sleep in in the morning, hoping to catch a few last zzs to make up for the difficult work week. Or we try to finish a project for work when we really should be sleeping. Perhaps we go running right before bed and have trouble falling asleep, only to feel groggy and not up to our standard performance the next day.
Perhaps we eat too much before hitting the sack. Maybe, we had a few too many drinks, and we wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble resetting and going back to sleep. These, at least, are some of the most common reasons why our sleep schedules get off track. And in order to get them on track again, we need to start making active strides toward having better sleep hygiene.
8 steps for fixing your sleep schedule
These eight steps will help you fix your sleep schedule and get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
1. Admit you have a problem.
Take an honest look at your sleep patterns and track how many hours you sleep a night for seven days. Add those numbers up and divide by seven to see where you are today, and how many hours per night you need to add to get to your sleep target of seven to nine hours per night.
2. Connect with your why.
One of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll be successful in implementing a change in your life is to connect with the bigger “why” that is motivating you.
Are you hoping more sleep will help you be less snappy with your children? Or do you want to sneak in a morning workout? Or are you just looking for a boost in energy so you’ll be less dependent on coffee?
Determine the top reasons you want to get more sleep and write them down. That way, when you’re tempted to stay up late, you’ll connect with your “why” and say no to that extra glass of wine, extra hour of work or episode of "House of Cards."
3. Set a schedule.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is a great move and makes the transition into sleep more seamless over time. Start by determining how many hours of sleep you’d like to get and then set your sleep schedule accordingly. If you are targeting eight hours of sleep and need to be up at 6:30 am, then your lights should be out by 10:30 pm each night.
4. Set the mood and make a wind-down plan.
It’s a given that you’ll sleep better in a quiet, dark and cool environment, but you’ll also want to keep stressors like your laptop and phone out of your bedroom to create a sacred space for rest.
Although it’s tempting to scroll through Facebook and Instagram to decompress, at night, you’re going to want to stay away from your phone, TV and laptop because their artificial light interferes with your body’s natural ability to wind down. I charge my phone in the kitchen so that I’m not tempted to look at it one more time before putting my head on the pillow.
One of the simplest pieces of advice I give to my executive coaching clients is to implement a strict no electronics policy one hour before bedtime. It’s a simple rule that is hard to implement at first, but it does yield profound results.
The easiest way to break a habit is to replace it with a new one — so ditch your devices before bedtime and start a new nighttime ritual (i.e. writing in a gratitude journal, practicing meditation, sipping herbal tea or doing some light stretching) before bed.
5. Get the right tools.
It can also be helpful to use tools like sleep meditation, aromatherapy, earplugs and deep belly breathing techniques to ease into sleep.
A relaxing sleep meditation can be restorative and can help you feel rejuvenated even if you don’t fall asleep immediately. Sleep meditations can be used to help you ease into sleep or to help you get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night.
6. Acknowledge and plan for what could get in your way.
Knowing where you might meet resistance and planning strategies ahead of time is helpful in overcoming obstacles when they come up. To be prepared, write down the top five things that will likely interfere with you getting to bed on time and then determine a plan of action to deal with them.
Don’t forget to include common sleep detractors — alcohol and caffeine.
Although alcohol may make you drowsy at first, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant and can disturb your sleep quality throughout the night. So it’s best to limit your sauvignon blanc intake before bedtime or to skip the booze entirely.
As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that perks you up, so it’s essential to avoid coffee before bedtime. But caffeine stays in your system for quite some time, so it’s best to avoid caffeine completely in the four to six hours before bedtime.
Try to avoid naps as well. They can interfere with your sleep later on.
7. Get some exercise — even a small amount makes a difference!
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking briskly, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. Make moving your body a priority, and set a calendar reminder if you need to, in order to make it happen.
8. Get a sleep buddy.
It can be helpful to have a sleep buddy to help you make sure you follow through on your plan.
Find a good friend or family member and tell them your sleep goal and then ask them to check in with you every day for the first week and then every few days going forward. You could up it a notch and do a “sleep challenge” with this friend so you are both holding each other accountable.
Now that you know the eight steps to fixing your sleep schedule and getting a better night’s sleep, share these tips with your friends so they can start feeling the awesome benefits of being well-rested, too.
Does staying up 24 hours fix your sleep schedule?
This is likely to throw off your circadian rhythm even further, so it's best to avoid staying up a full day. You'll end up oversleeping to compensate, and your body will be confused. Plus, staying up 24 hours can have some negative side effects on your overall health — not to mention it's a very difficult thing to do.
How long does it take to adjust to a new sleep schedule?
When you're traveling, the general rule is one day per time zone, meaning you can change it one hour per day. This isn't the case for everyone, though. For some, it could even take weeks. If you're trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule, make the changes gradually. For instance, push back your bedtime time 15-20 minutes per night.
How can I reset my body clock fast?
Some ways to reset your body clock include:
• Fasting for 16 hours
• Taking a melatonin
• Adjusting your lighting (for instance, installing blackout curtains)
Note that these methods, particularly the first two, should be used sparingly, such as when you're traveling and want to get on a new time zone quickly.
Lisa Abramson is an entrepreneur, TEDx speaker and bestselling author of The Wise Mama Guide to Maternity Leave. She is the founder of Wise Mama and the co-founder of Mindfulness Based Achievement, which teaches high potential women leaders how to create sustainable success.