This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
There are many reasons why your sleep schedule might go awry.
Whether it's early morning shifts, evening events or daylight saving time (don't forget that clocks fall back at 2 a.m. on Nov. 6), it can be difficult to go to sleep and wake up at the same time.
Overall, an inconsistent sleep schedule can not only lead to bad sleep, but can contribute to many health issues like a weaker immune system and a higher risk of heart problems.
If your sleep schedule is out of whack, read on to learn what you can do to fix it.
1. Avoid caffeine late in the day
Almost everyone enjoys a soda or coffee from time to time.
But studies show that having caffeinated drinks up to six hours before you sleep can be very disruptive.
If you have trouble sleeping, it can help to make sure you don't consume large amounts of caffeine after three or four in the afternoon.
You can choose to drink decaffeinated coffee or a caffeine-free soda later in the day.
2. Don't drink alcohol
You might think alcohol helps you sleep.
However, a study found that it actually disrupts your sleep by making your breathing shallower. Participants who drank alcohol had worse sleep for two nights after consumption.
Another study found that alcohol worsened any sleep-induced breathing abnormalities, such as sleep apnea and benign chronic snoring.
This happens because alcohol reduces the strength of the muscles in your upper airways. It also makes your body less responsive when your airways get obstructed.
While it's fine to drink in moderation, it's best to avoid drinking alcohol regularly if you want to improve your quality of sleep.
3. Don't eat too late
A late-night snack can be very tempting, but eating within three hours of your bedtime significantly increases sleep disruptions, according to a recent study.
Planning to finish eating by seven or eight in the evening can also help you set a consistent sleep schedule, which helps you fall asleep sooner.
Also, the quality and type of your snack can influence your sleep. For example, one study found that people were able to sleep faster if they had a high-carb meal four hours before sleeping.
4. Get enough daylight and darkness
Your body follows an internal sleep clock, called your circadian rhythm.
When it's dark at night, it releases a hormone called melatonin that plays a role in regulating this cycle. Your body knows not to produce melatonin in daylight.
If you can follow a schedule that lets you get enough light during the day and minimizes bright light from screens (for example) in the evening, your body's sleep clock will adjust.
In turn, this improves your quality of sleep and helps you fall asleep faster.
5. Practice mindfulness in the evening
If you're an overthinker or are anxious at night, it'll be much harder to get to sleep.
Practicing mindfulness through methods like journaling or meditation can help you to quiet your thoughts and reduce your stress.
6. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise does wonders for your body.
One study found that exercising regularly cut the time participants took to fall asleep in half, and helped them sleep for 41 additional minutes per night.
In the study, the participants completed 45 minutes of moderate aerobics three times per week.
However, the goal is to do moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes in a week, as the CDC recommends.
7. Optimize your bedroom
Your sleep environment can affect your sleep quality, such as temperature, ambient noise and light levels. Adjusting your bedroom environment to improve these factors should help you sleep better.
If you have a thermostat, try to keep it between 15ºC and 19ºC (between 60°F and 67°F). Your body generally cools down when you lay down, so a higher room temperature can cause discomfort.
Blackout curtains can also help reduce light levels, though you should also turn off any lit-up displays, like an alarm clock screen, when you go to sleep.
Reset your sleep schedule
If your sleep schedule has gotten erratic, don't worry. There are many ways to fix it.
And remember, the first step to getting your sleep back on track doesn't have to be complicated.