Here's How To Maintain A Consistent Sleep Schedule

by Carina Wolff

When it comes to good sleep, most of us know the importance of getting at least seven hours and and shutting off our cell phone before bed. But while many of us focus on how to sleep better and for longer, we often don't think about how to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Although getting adequate sleep each night is definitely important, it's also just as crucial for your body to go to bed and wake up around the same time each night and morning.

"Our sleep is closely tied to our circadian rhythm," says Dr. Robert Oexman, Director of the Sleep to Live Institute, over email. "When we change our sleep and wake time, we alter our circadian cycle. We experience this when we stay up later on the weekends and sleep in later in the morning. Most people find it difficult to fall asleep at bed time on Sunday night and will often find it more difficult to wake up on Monday."

According to a study published in BMC Public Health, going to bed at different times is associated with poorer sleep quality and increased fatigue. " Altered sleep schedules, as seen with shift workers, is also associated with a greater risk of accidents, lower immune system, [higher] risk for chronic disease, and a shorter life expectancy," says Oexman.

If you want to get your circadian rhythms in sync and have an easier time falling asleep and waking up, try these seven tips to help you maintain a regular sleep schedule.

1. Make A Commitment

Plan your bedtime in your calendar or set an alarm — whatever it includes to make going to bed and waking up a serious part of your schedule. "You need to make a commitment," says Oexman. "Just like any good diet or exercise plan, you need to stick with it in the long term. The occasional night out is fine, but it should not be a habit."

2. Get Enough Sleep

"You not only need a commitment to falling asleep and waking at the same time, but you need to commit to getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night," says Oexman. Not getting enough sleep can cause you to nap during the day, which may cause you to stay up later into the night. "Napping in the evening will alter the sleep wake schedule and should be avoided," he says.

3. Avoid Caffeine

"Avoid caffeine use past noon each day," says Oexman. "Caffeine has a 12-hour half-life, which means it can impact your ability to fall asleep or maintain sleep after use." Research from the journal Science Translational Medicine also found that caffeine can throw off your body's natural circadian rhythm by delaying the release of the hormone melatonin by approximately 40 minutes.

4. Avoid Alcohol

"Avoid alcohol use later in the evening," says Oexman. "Alcohol will allow you to fall asleep quicker, but it has a rebound effect on sleep later in the night. Most of these awakenings may not be remembered the next day but it will reduce the amount of REM sleep you get each night after drinking alcohol."

5. Exposure Yourself To Light When You Wake Up

"If you have a difficult time waking in the morning, try a little bit of bright light," says Oexman. "Light helps us reset our circadian clock each day. If you can go for a walk in the sunlight after getting out of bed, this is the best way to wake up." If not, try opening the blinds or eating your breakfast by a window.

6. Keep Your Room Dark At Night

Just as light can affect your circadian rhythm in the morning, it can do the same at night. "Keep your room completely dark," says Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC over email. "Also, try not to turn a light on if you have to use the bathroom."

7. Lower The Temperature

Make sure your room temperature is set at 65 to 68 degrees. "We need a decrease in core body temperature to fall asleep and maintain sleep," says Oexman. "Use as many covers as you need to stay comfortable, but by having your head exposed to the cool air it will lower your core body temperature."

Creating healthy sleep and wake routines can help ingrain habits that will make setting a consistent sleep schedule a little bit easier.

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