Challenges with your sleep schedule like frequent trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting back to sleep in the middle of the night can leave you tired, foggy, and irritable. It’s no wonder so many people wonder how to fix sleep schedules.
Sadly, sleep problems are quite common [X]. But patients who are wondering how to fix sleep schedules need not despair. In our clinic, we’ve seen people make remarkable progress with some dedicated attention to their sleep habits. You, too, can get better sleep.
In this article, we’ll discuss how your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm works, what can disrupt your sleep schedule, and share six key tips about how to fix sleep schedules and get better sleep.
How to Fix Sleep Schedules: Snapshot
Resetting your sleep schedule is a vitally important kind of self-care. Here is a quick summary of research-backed options to fix your sleep schedule.
Set a bedtime routine and a consistent bedtime and waking time. Avoid all-nighters and shift work if possible. Try to eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime.
Avoid bright lights and screen use for at least two hours before bed.
Modify your bedroom environment (temperature, lights, sounds) to support good sleep.
Address breathing problems, like mouth breathing, snoring, sleep apnea, or allergies by consulting with a medical professional.
Exercise regularly, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
Try taking melatonin to help you fall asleep quickly, and take probiotics for general sleep support.
Sleep Cycles and Circadian Rhythm
Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by your circadian rhythm (body clock) which responds to daylight cues. Your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the center of your brain, plays an important role in this cycle. It responds to the fading light at the end of the day by releasing the hormone melatonin, which initiates your nightly sleep cycle [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Throughout the night, your brain cycles through different sleep patterns, which include varying levels of Non-REM (NREM) deep sleep and random eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when you dream [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
When your sleep cycle runs smoothly, you usually experience four stages of sleep [x] in a cycle:
NREM 1: This light sleep is associated with a transition from alpha brain waves to theta waves.
NREM 2: A deeper sleep, NREM 2 is associated with theta brain waves, where you are harder to awaken.
NREM 3: This is deep sleep associated with delta brain waves. You become non-responsive to sounds or other stimulus.
A return to NREM 2
REM: REM is sleep with random eye movement. In REM sleep, your body’s heart rate, breathing, and body temperature may change and you may dream.
Research suggests 7-9 hours of sleep per night provides the best health benefits [X].
What’s Contributing to Your Sleep Problems?
If you’re not getting enough restful sleep, it’s important to consider possible causes.
The most obvious challenge to getting quality sleep is it simply isn’t a priority for many people. If this is the case for you, getting committed to taking good care of your sleep is key. Just remember that a lack of quality sleep contributes to many health conditions, including heart disease [X], obesity [X, X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], metabolic syndrome [X], poor brain function [X], and of course, fatigue [X].
Here are some things that can affect your sleep schedule, sleep quality, or contribute to sleep disorders that you may need to pay attention to:
Certain medical conditions, like hyperthyroidism, reflux, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and more [X]
How to Fix Sleep Schedules
Resetting your sleep schedule is possible when you devote attention to your sleep hygiene (the habits, practices, and environment that help you sleep well). Sleep patterns respond to your other behaviors, so fixing sleep schedules is largely about creating routines that best support your sleep. Experiment with these options to see which ones make the most difference for you.
1. Set a Consistent Bedtime Routine
One of the best ways to support your sleep success is to reset your circadian clock by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, even on your days off. Create a regular schedule for your bedtime and waking time.
For some people, waking up early is a challenge. An alarm clock can help you stick to your normal waking time. For others, going to bed on time is the harder task. Creating a bedtime routine to wind down each night can send the right signals to your internal clock that it’s time to settle down.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may have been given the advice to avoid napping, as it might disrupt your ability to sleep well later that night. However, the evidence about napping isn’t yet clear and more research needs to be done [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
If you’re feeling tired and short on sleep during the day, short 15-20 minute naps may help restore your wakefulness and attention and shouldn’t disrupt your sleep later. However, long naps may impact your nighttime sleep.
2. Avoid Blue Light Near Bedtime
Though you may be accustomed to using screens to wind down in the evening, research suggests this isn’t a good practice for your sleep quality. According to a systematic review and meta analysis of clinical studies, all colors of light, even at low intensity, can disrupt your circadian rhythm [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Other systematic reviews and meta analyses agree. One found that two hours of exposure to blue light in the evening (light from cell phones, televisions, computer monitors, or even from bright lights) suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
For best sleep results, limit blue light exposure in the two hours before your normal bedtime. It may encourage a healthy melatonin response and support good sleep.
If you can’t avoid screen use in the evening, using blue-light blocking glasses [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], apps such as f.lux or Iris, or the built-in Apple function called “night shift” can help.
3. Bedroom Environment
Creating a sacred, quiet, distraction-free zone in your bedroom sets the tone for a restful night of sleep. Research suggests that for those without sleep apnea, a bedroom temperature of around 60 degrees F leads to better sleep [X].
Other ways you can adjust your sleep environment include:
Using earplugs or a white noise generator to manage unwanted sounds
Using blackout curtains or an eye mask to minimize outside light
Covering LED lights or moving appliances with glowing lights
Turning off your Wi-Fi router and switching your phone to airplane mode at night
4. Address Nighttime Breathing Problems
Difficulty breathing normally at night, from sleep apnea (a sleep disorder that affects your breathing), allergies [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], or other nasal obstructions [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] can lead to frequent waking, heart rate elevations, and spikes of adrenaline, which can disrupt your sleep schedule and leave you feeling exhausted come morning.
If you’re not sure if you have breathing problems while you sleep, apps such as SnoreLab or the home sleep test WatchPAT can help you evaluate your nighttime breathing. We have started using WatchPat One with our patients, and would be happy to discuss this with you if you need help. Otherwise, you may need to visit a sleep specialist for evaluation.
Sleep apnea is often treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or mouth appliances [x Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Other options that may improve sleep apnea or snoring include:
Exercise appears to be especially helpful for people with sleep apnea. A systematic review and meta analysis of 80 clinical trials found that exercise was the second most effective approach to resolve sleep apnea next to CPAP [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
And the timing of your exercise matters, too. A systematic review and meta analysis found that vigorous exercise that ends within an hour before bedtime may impair total sleep time, time of sleep onset, and sleep efficiency [X Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. So it’s best to complete your exercise earlier in the day.
6. Supplements to Support Sleep
While the behavioral changes we’ve just discussed are super important, a few particular supplements can help you reset your sleep schedule.
However, not everyone can quit their shift work job. These tips can help you keep a healthy sleep schedule even if you do shift work:
Set a regular sleep routine and stick to it, despite your odd hours.
Avoid caffeine for the last four hours of your shift.
Go straight to bed when you get home.
Wear sunglasses on your way home, even if it’s cloudy, to reduce light exposure, which may signal to your brain it’s time to wake up.
Make sure your family and friends know when not to disturb you.
Sleep Wearables: Learn About Your Sleep Schedule
If after adjusting everything you are still having trouble sleeping, sleep wearables like the Oura Ring and others, can help you assess what’s going on. According to several separate studies, the Oura ring was the best direct-to-consumer wearable because it measured sleep most similarly to the technology used in clinical sleep studies [X, X, X].
If you’re not sleeping well, it’s vitally important for your health to balance your sleep schedule so you can feel rested. Setting a consistent sleep schedule and routine, attending to any breathing problems, your sleep environment, and your exercise routines, and limiting blue light exposure in the evening can all help. And sleep wearables can help you further understand what’s going on with your sleep.
With a little focused attention, you can sleep soundly through the night and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on your life.
I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!
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