Rhythms for Sleep
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
- Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm.
- Be smart about napping. While napping is a good way to make up for lost sleep, if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, napping can make things worse. Limit them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you get sleepy way before your bedtime, get off the couch and do something mildly stimulating, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or getting clothes ready for the next day. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.
Try a new sleep schedule for a week and see how you are doing with it. When you are making changes to your sleep schedule, you may want to use a sleep journal where you can record when you fell asleep and how long you slept. You should also record when you nap and how rested you feel.
There are tons of sleep tracker apps out there, but I’m old fashioned and suggest using the pen and paper model. There are plenty of sleep diaries out on the internet you can use. Some are complex while others are really simple. There are also ones that are designed for a particular diagnosis.
If you struggle with sleep, these diaries are something that you can share with your primary doctor to get advice on your sleep. But keep in mind that medications should be the last resort. They can make things worse in the long run and really should only be used for a short period.