How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule & Get Your Sleep Cycle Back

A regulated sleep schedule is of the utmost importance, but sometimes it is hard to know where to start. Follow these tips to fix your sleep schedule!

By Daina
How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule & Get Your Sleep Cycle Back

Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your body

Sleep regulates the body—it is the time the body can rest in between everything else we put the body through during the day. In order to function properly and naturally, the body needs a certain amount of sleep based on age and activity level (people who do more activity during the day should sleep more at night). A person’s health relies on sleep. That being said, sleep should be completed in a pattern. Sleep cycles should be done roughly around the same time of day. For those who work overnight shifts, you may have noticed going from working nights and sleeping days gets easier as time goes on, but if you try to switch it on your off days, you never seem rested. That’s because the body works on these timed schedules. If you go to sleep consistently at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, your body will begin to do so naturally and will result in a more restful sleep. I’ve been working with students with disabilities for about five years now, both residentially and in a treatment center. One of the main issues adolescents suffers with is sleep problems. Many times, teens switch their days and their nights around (meaning, they sleep all day and stay up all night) and don’t know how to get back on track. Here are strategies to fix your pattern get your sleep schedule back to where it should be. Of note: the recommended bedtime for normal school or work days is between 9 and 11pm. All recommendations made in this article reflect this bedtime.

Know how much sleep you need to be getting.

In your teenage years, you should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night. In adult years (18 and over) 7-9 hours will suffice. If you are very active during the day, you might find you need more sleep than is recommended. Illnesses may also affect this number. If you feel you are getting the recommended amount for a person your age, you have healthy sleep-related habits (outlined in this article), and you still find yourself very tired, it is important to seek professional advice. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the possibility of a sleep disorder or another illness that may require other treatment. It is easy to go to bed at night and get the recommended amount of sleep. However, what your body really needs is REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) is also referred to as “deep sleep”—it is an integral part of your sleep cycle that is the highest quality of sleep you can get. You may be getting 8 hours of sleep a night; however, REM only takes about an hour and a half to two hours of that time. It is the last stage of the sleep cycle (which occurs in intervals throughout the night, so you may reach REM a few times in the night). There are many things that affect REM sleep, which are explained in this article.

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Know the importance of a good sleep schedule.

Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety affect many people, teens included. Did you know going to bed earlier in the night decreases the symptoms of these disorders (negative and depressive thoughts, worrying, anxious feelings)? What I mean by earlier in the night is earlier than 12am. Bedtimes are recommended to be between 9pm and 11pm, but every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. That means that if you went to bed at 10pm and got 8 hours of sleep, you would feel more rested than if you went to bed at 2am and got 8 hours of sleep. Have you ever noticed that when you go to bed after midnight, you sleep more and feel more tired? That is why. A good sleep schedule is important for everyday activities, such as school and work. It helps your brain stay focused and alert during the day. You have more energy to participate in a healthy amount of physical activity, which will then help you sleep well at night.

Stop napping during the day to fix your sleep schedule.

One of the main causes of sleep problems is napping during the day. When you nap, you throw off your entire sleep schedule. Your body just rested, so why would it want to rest just a few hours later? After resting, it is ready for an entire day’s worth of activity. If you are one that has switched the days and nights already and is struggling to get back on track, the best advice I can give is to stop napping. It is going to be difficult the first day, as it means you would not have gotten sleep in about 24 hours. But once you stay up during the day, you can then go to sleep at a normal bedtime and begin to regulate a normal sleeping pattern. That being said, it is important to maintain a good sleeping pattern, even on the weekends and during the summer. Just because there is no school does not mean it is good for your body to go to sleep at 3am and wake up at 2pm. That causes a bad sleeping pattern which will affect your body in more than one way.

Get off your tech!

Another common cause of sleep problems is using technology late at night. If you are staring at a bright screen, your eyes sense light and tell your body it is still daytime. It also prevents the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep schedule. Your body doesn’t relax in the way it needs to in order to get ready for sleep. This may also cause a restless sleep, where you do not get the recommended amount of REM throughout the night. Try other strategies to let your brain time to shut down. Reading or listening to soothing music may do the trick. Writing in a journal may allow your brain to release all of the things on your mind that might prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Stay away from caffeine so your sleep schedule can be fixed.

The one thing clients tell me most is that they do not know why they toss and turn throughout the night and can’t get a good night of sleep. After all, they lie down at a decent time in order to get a full eight hours of sleep. So why can’t they stay asleep? The first question I ask when a client tells me they are having trouble sleeping is how much caffeine they are drinking after 3pm. The answer is almost always more than they should be having.

It is common that people who have excessive caffeine intake during the day and late afternoon have trouble sleeping at night, especially people who are drinking 2 liters of soda right before bedtime (I’ve seen this quite a few times). A lot of the times, teens do not consider what they are drinking or eating, no matter time of day. If they can have a coffee with an espresso shot in the morning, why not at 7pm? I, myself, sometimes lose track of time and open up a Diet Coke after 7pm. And I find, every single time, that I cannot stay asleep. It is recommended that you do not drink coffee or any caffeinated products after 3pm. So what has caffeine in it? • Coffee, including espresso shots and even decaf (decaf has significantly less caffeine, but still has about 15 mg of caffeine per serving) • Most sodas (the few that don’t include Sprite, ginger ale, and caffeine-free sodas) • Most teas (the highest in caffeine content include black tea, white tea, and green tea; there are some herbal teas that are naturally caffeine free, such as chamomile and peppermint tea). Stay away from these drinks in order to fix your sleeping pattern and get a restful night's sleep.

Just the same, stay away from sugar and junk food after a certain time before sleep.

It is normal to have a small dessert after dinner. However, excessive amounts of sugar and junk food after 7pm is not recommended. Actually, excessive amounts of sugar or junk food at any time of day can ruin your sleep schedule. The same way caffeine keeps you up, sugar and junk food is designed to get you hyper and keep you awake. However, it does more to your body than keep you awake at night. When you intake too much sugar during the day, you are hyped for a short time before the inevitable sugar crash that will happen. Remember what I said about the napping and how it can affect your sleep schedule? Sugar crashes usually result in sleepiness during the day and the need for a nap. Even healthy foods can prevent you from having a restful night’s sleep. An apple is as effective keeping you awake as a cup of coffee. The natural sugars and vitamins an apple provides keeps your body going. Anything with protein amps up your body and puts your body in “ready” mode for activity. Imagine you get hungry late at night and want an apple and peanut butter. Your body will be ready for anything but sleep! Skip the late night snack and opt for a cup of chamomile tea or water.

Avoid alcohol before sleep time.

If you’ve ever drank an excessive amount at night, you might know the feeling of passing out. It may make getting to sleep easier than anything else. I mentioned before that sleep helps symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, alcohol worsens these symptoms. Remember that alcohol is a depressant. When you drink excessive amounts of alcohol before sleep, it takes away the benefits sleep provides. Alcohol also prevents melatonin from being effective. We already learned that melatonin is key in a good night’s sleep. So although alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, it messes up the sleep cycle and causes for a hard next morning.

Get active and fix your schedule!

During the day, your body wants to move. It has all this functionality that sometimes is not taken advantage of. All of the food you intake during the day only makes your body want to move around more. If you’re like me, you like your lazy Sundays. You don’t really want to do much because you have the entire week right over the horizon. Instead, you sit and relax and catch up on your shows and maybe take the dog on a short walk. However, by bedtime, you’re not tired. You then stay up until late, when you finally do get tired, and by that time, you already have messed up your sleep pattern. Allow your body to do what it does best—move! Do more physical activity during the day when your body is most activated and you’ll see a difference in how your sleep schedule improves. If you sleep all day, your body wants to do anything but sleep at night. It wants to burn calories and get the activity in that it did not get in during the day. Everyone on an average diet (2,000 calories a day) should be getting 30 minutes of exercise in a day. If you are intaking more than 2,000 calories (a few Starbucks drinks alone will get you there), then you need more exercise in order for your body to be regulated. If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, vigorous cardio workouts during the day are a great starting point!

Take any and all medications when they are scheduled to be taken.

When I worked in a residential treatment program, most kids were prescribed medications that had to be taken at specific times of the day. If a stimulant medication taken for ADHD is prescribed to you to take in the morning, it is not beneficial in any way if you wake up at noon and take it. Stimulants and other medications take a certain amount of time to kick in and are designed to be effective for the entire day, until the time you begin winding down to go to sleep. That being said, if you take your medication later than the recommended time frame, you are allowing the medication to remain effective during the time you are trying to sleep. This may, in turn, cause you to go to sleep later and wake up later and begin the bad sleep pattern all over again. The recommended time frame for morning medications is between 7-9am (morning medications usually are designated to be taken at 8am and medications should be taken between an hour before and an hour after the time they are designated). Noontime medications should be taken between 11am-1pm, dinnertime medications should be taken between 4pm and 6pm, and bedtime medications should be taken between 9pm and 11pm. These are how the drug companies designed the medications to be most effective for whatever the medication is taken for.

Take sleeping pills in moderation.

Every so often, I feel I need a sleep aid medication to regulate and fix my sleep pattern. If I don’t sleep well one night, the next night I will take a sleeping pill and get the recommended amount of sleep. They make for a very peaceful night of sleep. Although non-habit forming sleeping pills (Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Zzzquil) work well to get your sleep schedule regulated, there is a reason they are non-habit forming. They are not meant to be long-term fixes for sleep issues. If you have chronic sleep problems, it is best to see a specialist or try the strategies I have already outlined. It is also important to note the side effects of the sleeping pills. You should not take over the counter sleep aid if you do not expect to get the recommended amount of sleep. If it is 1am and you’re alarm is going to go off at 6am, your next day will be very difficult to function if you took sleeping pills which are meant to give you 8 hours of sleep. The sleeping pills increase your REM sleep stage and if that is interrupted by an alarm before your body expects to be woken up, you will end up more tired the next day than if you were to not take the pills at all.

Sleep is the ultimate key to a happy healthy life; shouldn't you fix some things to make sure you're getting enough?

Sleep is one of the most effective ways to improve your health. No wonder the biggest piece of advice doctors give you when you’re sick is “get a lot of rest.” Every part of your body needs to recuperate and heal and it does that most when it is resting during sleep. Make a sleep schedule that is right for you—what time to go to bed, what time to wake up, what time to stop drinking caffeine, what to eat to help you get a good rest. Everything you do during the day affects how well your body rests at night. If it’s a simple few little tricks to make sure you are no longer tired during the day, don’t you think it’s worth it?