Starting and Sticking to a Sleep Routine (and Why it’s Important)
Everyone knows that a good night’s rest is essential for physical and mental health and well-being. Many people, however, go to bed at night and lie awake tossing and turning, unable to go to sleep for hours on end. The result is waking up the next morning feeling groggy and hitting the snooze button to postpone the inevitable just to spend a few more minutes in bed.
Both sleeping in too long or waking up earlier than you would like make the situation even worse. Failure to sleep well affects your mood, interactions with other people and on-the-job productivity throughout the day. This is particularly true for older teenagers and some young adults, who tend to stay up late but need to wake up early for work, school or other commitments. This combination over time can result in serious cases of insomnia. Chances are, your inability to sleep is due to a poor sleeping schedule. It is, however, possible, to reset your body’s clock for a happier, healthier and more rewarding life.
Creating a Sleep Routine that Works
Although it’s a problem for many people, regularly getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t necessarily need to be difficult. What’s required is a sleep schedule that lets you fall asleep at the same time each night, sleep soundly and get up on time feeling rested and ready to go. All that’s needed to develop and maintain that schedule is some time spent experimenting with different sleeping and waking times, along with self-discipline and determination.
The starting point is finding a sleep pattern to form the basis for your new sleep routine. Begin by deciding on the time you’d ideally like to wake up each day, taking into consideration your daily commitments, such as work or school. Next, establish a new target bedtime by subtracting the number of hours’ sleep you need each night from your preferred wake-up time. As a guideline, most people require seven or eight hours nightly. If you’re not sure how many hours sleep you need, start with eight. This number can be adjusted upward or downward along the way in increments of 10 or 15 minutes as you begin to settle into your new sleep routine.
Some people like to wake up early to get a head start on the day, while others are night owls who prefer to sleep in a little longer. Experiment by changing waking times little by little over a period of several days until they mesh with your everyday activities. Everyone is different, so it’s essential that you choose times that work best for you. Adjust your bedtime accordingly by subtracting your required hours of sleep from your new wake-up time. As you try out different waking times, be sure you don’t adjust more than one or two hours total in either direction.
The earlier you’re able to fall asleep, the easier it will be to get up in the morning, so avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol in the evenings. To make it more comfortable during the transition period, you might consider using natural sleep supplements like melatonin or chamomile tea. While experimenting with sleeping and waking times, it’s important to stay with the same daily schedule before making further refinements. At first, this will include going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Transitioning into Your New Sleep Routine
The next step is to start shifting away from your old sleep schedule and phasing into the new routine, which will take time, so be patient. Giving up at this point will in all likelihood cause you to revert to your previous restless nights and sleep-deprived days.
As you fine-tune your wake time, you’ll probably lose at least some sleep, which will cause you to experience some of the effects of sleep deprivation, including decreased productivity. To the extent possible, try to allow yourself some downtime by cutting back on physical activity or mental stress during this period. It’s important to stay motivated at this stage of the transition, which might prove to be difficult since your body is still trying to settle into a new sleep/wake routine.
Keep reminding yourself that once you adjust to your new sleep routine, you’ll get up on time full of energy, be more productive during the days and go to bed at the same time every night and quickly drift off into restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Solidify Your New Sleep Routine
Once you’ve made the transition from your old sleep/wake schedule into your new routine, you’ll need to secure it firmly in place. This is where self-discipline comes in. It can be difficult at first, and it will only take a couple of slip-ups before you revert back to your old ways.
Your circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that regulates the brain’s sleeping/waking cycle. Because you’ve recently changed your sleeping and waking pattern, you’ll probably experience some symptoms similar to jet lag until the body’s clock resets itself. While you’re going through this transition, try to get some sunlight during the day, and avoid light late in the evening, including the glow from computer screens, smartphones and televisions. Also try to keep workouts, mealtimes, social activities and other recurring events in your daily schedule as regular as possible.
Although you should get out of bed at your new wake time every day, there’s room for some flexibility in the evenings. Go to bed only when you’re sleepy. This will gradually improve your “sleep efficiency,” which is the time between when you go to bed and when you fall asleep. By doing this, you’ll avoid what’s called “learned insomnia,” since you’ll subconsciously associate bed with falling asleep rather than lying awake. After a while, it will become much easier to fall asleep within five or ten minutes of going to bed.
Why It’s important to Stick to Your New Routine
Once you’ve settled into a routine that lets you fall asleep quickly and awaken on time feeling relaxed and refreshed, it shouldn’t be difficult to maintain it. After a while, you’ll find that you’re able to relax some of the rules, such as sleeping in on the weekend now and then or occasionally staying up an hour so later than usual. If you find yourself slipping, however, immediately revert to the original guidelines until you’re back on track and once again in control.
Beyond just feeling well-rested, the right sleep routine will improve your energy, concentration, memory and mood. Getting enough sleep can also help you control your weight, boost your immune system and even increase your lifespan. A study released by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that persons without regular sleep routines tended to be overweight, have higher cholesterol levels and body mass indexes. They also had greater resistance to insulin than people who maintained regular sleep routines.
Once you’ve established a regular sleep routine, your circadian rhythm will perform at its best. Naturally occurring hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol will begin to be released an hour or so before your wake up time, which gets your body ready to take on the day. Some people find that after a while they’re able to wake up refreshed and on time, even without an alarm.
A regular sleep routine will also move your body into a rapid eye movement (REM) state, which is the deepest phase of sleeping before you wake up. If your sleep times are irregular and your circadian rhythm is off, the alarm might ring during a deep REM phase, jarring you awake and leaving you with a groggy feeling that can last all day.
Start working toward establishing a regular sleep routine today, and it won’t be long before you begin to experience better health and a happier, more enjoyable life. To make the transition easier, be sure you’re sleeping on the right mattress. For some valuable tips on how to sleep better, visit the Sit ‘n Sleep website. Better yet, stop by one of our 38 conveniently located Sit ‘n Sleep’s Southern California Sleep Centers. One of our trained Sleep Consultants will help you choose a mattress that’s the right size and comfort level for your individual body size, type and lifestyle. With the right sleep system, you’ll find it’s much easier to get started on a sleeping routine that you can stick to for a happier, healthier and more productive life!