“I try to sleep early but I can’t fall asleep because my mind keeps racing.” “I wake up at 2 am and can’t go back to sleep.” “I’m so busy I can only get 5 hours of sleep a night.”
Many people are looking for ways on how to fix their sleep schedules. It’s a hot topic—and it should be.
One study showed that not sleeping enough is basically like being drunk. When they measured the accuracy in shooting a target in the military after sleeping a certain amount of hours, they found that men who slept for more than 7 hours had an accuracy of 98%. For those who slept 6 hours, the accuracy dropped to 50%. That’s almost a 50% drop!
But it gets worse: those who slept for 5 hours had an accuracy of only 23%, and those who slept for less than 5 hours had an accuracy of 13%. Yes, not sleeping enough is basically like being drunk!
Sleep doesn’t only influence your accuracy, but it also affects other areas of your life:
- Emotionally: you get cranky, irritable, or even depressed
- Mentally: you can’t focus well or remember important information
- Somatically: your body feels achy and sore
- Physically: your cells can’t repair, the inflammation in your body goes up, and all kinds of health issues arise
So, why is it important to not only sleep enough but also have a steady sleep schedule?
Your body needs a rhythm. The wake-sleep cycle is also called the circadian rhythm. It’s a constant play between cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is your get-up-and-go hormone in the morning. It gets activated with sunlight. Melatonin is your sleep hormone and can only increase when cortisol goes down in the evening.
I know you thought of stress when I mentioned cortisol, and you’re right about that. Cortisol goes up when we are stressed, have an infection or inflammation in the body, and when we are digesting food. If you’re that person who wakes up at 2 am and can’t fall back asleep, that is your cortisol speaking. It’s too high and, therefore, melatonin is too low.
In this article, I’ll share with you five tips on how to fix your sleep schedule.
1. Define Your Sleep Rhythm
Everybody is different. Find what works for you. Do you feel most rested when you sleep early and wake up early? Or are you more of an evening person who’s more productive when sleeping late and waking up late?
Listen to your body, and pick your sleep schedule. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about it. Look at it as an experiment. Pick your time of going to bed and your time of waking up, and test it out for a week. Doesn’t feel right? Switch it up until you find a rhythm that feels good.
Need some extra support to fix your schedule? Take the Power of When Quiz and find your Sleep Chronotype.
There’s an interesting 15-minute video training at the end to know more about the effects on your sleep when you exercise, eat, drink alcohol, drink coffee, etc.
2. Create a 5-Minute Morning Routine
Five minutes is enough to tell your body that it’s time to wake up and to prime your brain to be in the right mood, to be focused, and to feel positive. In those first five minutes of the day, your brain wakes up and switches from a subconscious state to a conscious state. This basically means that any input you get and anything you do in those first five minutes will set the tone for the rest of your day.
If you wake up in a rush, you turn on your WiFi right away and check your messages, you watch the news, you think of everything you still need to do, and run out the door, those influence the rest of your day. Your mind feels scattered, you’re all-over-the-place, you don’t feel fully present, and your stress levels go through the roof.
Find a mini-morning routine so that you can wake up feeling more well-rested, calm, and in control of your day. Create a set of habits that you can repeat every day so your brain doesn’t need to make decisions yet, like waking up and drinking a glass of water with lime, making your bed, thinking of three things you’re grateful for, looking out the window with a cup of tea, or going for a quick walk to get some sunlight in. Soaking up that sunlight in the morning will even help you fall asleep faster at night.
3. Calm Down Your Brain in the Evening
Another tip on how to fix your sleep schedule is learning how to calm down your brain in the evening. It’s important to prepare your body and your brain for sleep.
We want our cortisol levels to go down so that melatonin can go up. If we’re still receiving lots of input from social media, movies, the news, or we’re engaging in a heated discussion, our brain will still be up-and-running processing the information and emotions swirling around, instead of slowing down for a good night’s sleep.
How can you create an evening wind-down of one or preferably two hours before going to sleep where you completely disconnect and relax your system?
First of all, focus on output instead of input. We are living in such an input society where we keep consuming more information and new impulses through the media. We’re making our brains work overtime, even in the evening, by reading more books, listening to more podcasts, answering more messages. What kind of output can you focus on?
Whether it’s journaling, drawing, meditating, find something you can do that can either come out of you instead of putting new things in or something that can give your brain a break by doing something more physical like stretching, yoga, breathing, or walking.
Secondly, don’t watch any screens. The blue light from your phone or laptop screen will block melatonin production. If you do need to watch a screen, install a blue light filter. This will create a red glow on your screen in the evenings so that your eyes can rest and melatonin doesn’t get blocked. Depending on your device and system, you can find many great free options.
Thirdly, don’t eat or drink anything before going to sleep. Like mentioned before, cortisol goes up when you’re digesting food. Try not to eat or drink anything at least two hours before bedtime. If you do feel hungry, go for good protein options instead of carbohydrates. There are even foods with protein that stimulate the production of melatonin, like almonds. If you do want to drink something, go for some relaxing tea like chamomile, lavender, or valerian.
4. Upgrade Your Bedroom
Make sure your bedroom is super sleep-friendly with a good quality mattress, fresh sheets, good blinds to block the light from interrupting your sleep and make sure it’s not too humid or hot. It’s worth investing in the greatest sleep circumstances. You spend about 33 years of your life in bed!
Use your bed only for sleeping and making love. We need to train our brains in our favor. If we tell our brains that the bed is only a place for sleep, it will respect that and help us fall asleep faster.
On the other hand, if you sometimes use your laptop in the bed, watch movies, scroll your social media feed, your brain will think it can start doing other mental activities when you’re actually just trying to sleep.
If you can’t fall asleep and your brain is racing, get back up, walk around, read a book in the living room, drink some lavender tea or diffuse some lavender oil, and try again. Don’t just twist and turn in the bed hoping you’ll fall asleep soon. To train our brains to fall asleep faster and respect our sleep schedule, it’s better to get up, leave the bedroom, and then come back to try again.
5. Bring Down Your Stress Levels
Last but not least on how to fix your sleep schedule, you need to keep your cortisol levels low. It can peak for short moments, and that is totally natural. But when you are chronically stressed and your cortisol is high all the time, the effects on your health can be detrimental.
This is why it’s so important to work on your stress management skills. Which tools do you have in your toolbox already that you can use? What gives you that feeling of calmness? How can you do more of that, especially during your evening wind down?
You can either try different stress management practices at home or get help from a stress coach:
- Breathing exercises
- Practicing gratitude
- Reframing problems
- Connecting with positive people
- Listening to relaxing music
- Doing yoga
Find out what fits you as a person and what you can easily implement even when life gets in the way. We all fall off the wagon and forget about these practices now and then. It’s never too late to get back on that horse and restart a regular relaxation practice.
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”—Thomas Dekker
High levels of cortisol don’t always come from mental stress. It can be physical stress too when your immune system is fighting against bacteria, viruses, toxins, injuries, or certain foods. If you feel that might be the case, it is worth investigating more into your physical health and finding where the inflammation in your body is coming from.
And with that, I’m wishing you a lovely evening and a great night’s rest!
More Tips on How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule
- Your Night Routine Guide to Sleeping Better & Waking Up Productive
- The Night Owl’s Guide to Better Sleep
- 9 Best Sleep Tracker Apps to Help You Get Adequate Sleep
Featured photo credit: Kalegin Michail via unsplash.com