Ever felt the dread of knowing you have to wake up early, but you just can’t get to sleep?
Maybe you naturally stay up late, or maybe the pandemic did a number on your sleep routine. Or, you simply got sucked into a few Netflix series and turned into a night owl. Whatever the reason, your bedtime has crept into the wee hours.
Now don’t get us wrong — staying up later than average can be a good thing, especially if you tend to feel more alert, creative, and productive at night.
However, if you have to get up early for work or school, that can be hard when you’re regularly going to bed late. If that’s your situation, then you might want to consider shifting your bedtime so that you fall asleep earlier.
Read on to find out what might be causing you to stay up late, plus nine ways to shift your sleep schedule so you can go to bed and wake up earlier.
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock. It’s the biological cycle that helps control certain body processes, including your sleep cycle.
Cues such as social interactions, food, exercise, and the light you’re exposed to over the course of the day, can trigger changes in your circadian rhythm. These external factors influence your internal clock on a daily basis, and some triggers can influence you to go to bed and get up later.
Whether you’re a so-called night owl (evening person) or an early bird (morning person) may be less within your control than you might think.
Some people naturally have late chronotypes, meaning they prefer to go to sleep later in the night and wake up later in the morning. Meanwhile, those with early chronotypes prefer to go to bed and wake up earlier.
“People are born as either morning people or evening people,” says Dr. Alon Avidan, professor of Neurology and Sleep Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.
“You can’t be both,” Avidan says. “And you can’t easily transition someone from being a morning person to an evening person or an evening person to a morning person, but you can make changes to allow people to adjust slowly.”
However, if you find yourself regularly having difficulty falling asleep, even when you’re tired, you may be experiencing a condition called delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). This is different from being a night owl.
“Delayed sleep phase syndrome is more common in teenagers and young adults,” explains Dr. Ronald Chervin, professor of Neurology and Sleep Medicine and director of sleep disorder centers at the University of Michigan.
“[People with this condition] have trouble going to sleep when most other people are going to sleep, and they have trouble getting up at a targeted time, when most people might be going to work or school in the morning,” Chervin says.
Looking to alter your sleep habits and create more consistency in your sleeping patterns?
These tips will help you get to bed on time and boost your energy in the morning.
This may be the single most powerful action you can take to shift your sleep cycle,
According to the
Light intensity matters. People measure this with the unit called lux. Here are typical lux values for different types of light:
- 100–200 lux: the light in your home
- 2,500 lux: the light you’d get outside on a cloudy day
- 10,000 lux: the light you’d get outside on a sunny day
If you don’t have enough access to sunlight, consider investing in an artificial light source like a UV lamp or light box.
“The problem is that the light in your kitchen is much less bright than outside. That doesn’t work well for people. We use bright light boxes when we’re adjusting their sleep timing,” says Chervin.
Consider using a light box
You shouldn’t stare directly at the light box, but Chervin says that you can sit in front of it while working or eating breakfast to get a good amount of light. Make sure to get the light exposure as soon as you can after you wake up.
Most light box manufacturers will have instructions for how close you need to be to the light.
Avoid keeping your eyes closed or napping during your bright light session because this can block the benefits of the light.
When you’re shopping for an artificial light, skip the sun lamps, tanning lamps, and halogen lamps since these can damage your skin and eyes. Instead, look for 10,000-lux light boxes. Major retailers carry these at budget-friendly prices.
If you have a circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder and you’re considering artificial bright light, consult a healthcare professional for the best practices for your needs.
Changing your wake-up time may help you get to bed earlier.
“You want to be regular on both ends, and sometimes it may be even easier to regulate the get-up time than the sleep time,” says Chervin.
Sleep specialists recommend setting an alarm to wake up at the same exact time every day, not just the days you need to be up early. In other words, consider getting up at the same time on weekends as you do on weekdays, rather than sleeping in.
Instead of trying to go to bed several hours earlier than your usual time, adjust your bedtime gradually over several days.
“Like most habits, it’s easiest to break [a sleeping habit] if you gradually adjust,” says Chervin. “If you’re used to staying up really late, but your desired bedtime is earlier, adjusting in 15-minute increments from night to night will be a lot easier.”
This substance, often found in beverages including tea, coffee, and soda, can delay sleepiness by blocking the effects of adenosine, a chemical your body produces that helps you fall asleep.
“For most people who aren’t sleep deprived, and especially for anyone with chronic insomnia, you don’t want to have caffeine in the latter half of the day,” advises Chervin.
When it comes to cutting off caffeine, Chervin recommends leaving at least 6 hours between your last cup of joe and your anticipated bedtime.
If you’re looking for something to sip on in the evening, try warm milk or caffeine-free herbal teas, such as chamomile tea. These may even promote sleepiness.
As tempting as it may be to watch television or scroll on your phone before bed, the light from these devices may make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Chervin says the ideal time to turn off all screens is at least 2 hours before your targeted bedtime.
Eliminating light, including blue light from electronic devices, is essential because darkness tells your brain to start winding down for sleep.
“Darkness stimulates the secretion of a neurotransmitter called melatonin,” says Avidan. “When the environment becomes dark and melatonin is secreted, you begin to see a reduction in alertness.”
“Regular exercise is thought to be conducive to having better and more regular sleep,” says Chervin.
People in the study exercised on a treadmill in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Then researchers monitored their blood pressure and sleep using wearable cuffs and headbands. Those who exercised in the morning (7 a.m.) had lower blood pressure at night and also spent more time in a deep sleep.
Morning fitness activities that can elevate your heart rate, including brisk walking, power lifting, or an active yoga class, may lead to better sleep.
If you’re exercising to fall asleep earlier,
Your body naturally makes the hormone melatonin when you’re exposed to darkness.
Avidan recommends taking 0.5 to 1 mg of melatonin 3 to 4 hours before your usual bedtime.
“Melatonin is like a magnet,” says Avidan. “It pulls sleep onset earlier if you take it earlier.”
To optimize melatonin’s effects, experts recommend reducing light exposure before bed. It’s a good idea to turn off electronic devices, put down your phone, and dim the lights.
While melatonin is generally considered safe for most people, possible side effects include allergic reactions and interactions with medications. Melatonin supplements are not recommended for those who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or experiencing symptoms of dementia.
Consult your healthcare provider about whether melatonin is appropriate for you.
Besides regulating your sleep cycle, your circadian rhythm also affects your body temperature. Your core body temperature tends to rise over the course of the day and drop at night before you fall asleep.
On the other hand, if you’ve lived somewhere without air conditioning, you know how hard it can be to fall asleep and stay asleep on a hot night.
Avidan says consistently reducing the temperature in your bedroom to between 60°F to 65°F (15.5°C to 18.3°C) can help regulate your circadian rhythm and keep your bedtime more consistent.
Bedtime routines aren’t just beneficial for children. They can also help adults.
In addition to serving as a relaxing way to wind down, creating a nightly routine can help establish psychological cues telling your body that bedtime is approaching.
Bedtime routines are a great time for some extra self care. Consider having a nighttime skincare regimen or reading a few chapters of a book with a light topic to make winding down something you can look forward to.
Some other things that can set the tone for a good night’s rest are:
- Brushing your teeth. Yes, even this simple attention to your oral health can help you wind down for bed.
- Changing into pajamas. Experts recommend changing out of regular clothes and putting on pajamas as a simple way to indicate that it’s time to relax.
- Creating a family ritual. Chervin suggests reading to children as a bedtime routine option that includes the family.
- Turning on a fan.
Researchsuggests that the white noise and cool air from a fan both can help you fall asleep.
- Dimming lights.
Researchhas shown that bright household light in the hours before bedtime can interfere with falling asleep.
- Practicing calming activities. According to
research, meditating and listening to peaceful music are both linked to improved sleep.
While genetics play a role in when you fall asleep at night, different behaviors can help you adjust your sleep patterns. Light exposure, in particular, has a strong influence on your sleep-wake cycle.
Start in the morning by waking up at the same time daily, getting a good amount of light soon after you wake up, and exercising moderately.
In the evening, create a sleep-friendly atmosphere. This may include turning down the lights, keeping your bedroom cool, and avoiding electronic devices that produce blue light.
You can also incorporate a nightly bedtime routine with calming activities, such as a skin care routine, light reading or listening to soothing music.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, and changing your habits doesn’t seem to be making a difference, talk with a healthcare professional to address potential causes and treatment options.