The amazing, and sometimes elusive, perfect night’s sleep.
When you get it, the world is a friendlier place and you are in for an awesome day. But when you don’t get it, you wonder how you’re going to make it.
No matter what kind of sleep you got last night, great or terrible, this article will help you get that great sleep even better and that terrible sleep back to normal.
Your sleep is determined by your circadian rhythm .
Most of the time it’s invisible, working enthusiastically in the background. You wake up when it’s time to wake up and you go to sleep when it’s time to go to sleep.
But occasionally we notice it.
Every year when the clocks shift, we all tend to feel a little off. (Looking at you, Spring Forward) That off feeling is your circadian rhythm. It’s your body’s internal clock that manages going to sleep, waking up and everything in between.
There are two ways your sleep can get off track:
- Having bad everyday habits that slowly chip away at your sleep quality
- Sudden events such as traveling through multiple time zones or daylight savings
When your sleep suffers, everything suffers. That’s a fact. You might be able to hang in there for a time on small amounts of sleep but eventually, it will catch up with you. Some of the effects of having low quality sleep are:
- Weight gain
- Weakened immune system
- Impaired memory/concentration
- Increased risk for diabetes and high blood pressure
This article is going to teach you the 4 lifestyle factors that most affect your circadian rhythm and how to get them working for you, not against you, to be able to:
- fall asleep easily
- stay asleep all night
- wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day
Let’s jump in!
1. Develop a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Consistently going to bed and waking up around the same time every day and night allows your body to get into a rhythm and ensures you get the most out of your time asleep.
Your body produces hormones and chemicals to help you fall asleep, wake you up, and everything that our body needs in between.
When you are on a consistent sleep schedule, these hormones and chemicals get released in the correct amounts at the same-ish time every day.
What not having a consistent sleep schedule looks like:
- consistently staying up late
- waking up whenever feels good
- sleeping-in late on the weekends
When you get into this cycle, those important sleep and wake hormones can be released either too late, too early, or are not in the right amount. This causes strain on the whole system and can lead to less than ideal sleep: tossing and turning, waking up too early, feeling groggy when you wake up.
A) Pick a reasonable time to go to bed and wake up every morning.
DO NOT BE A HERO.
If you usually go to bed around 10:30 or 11 pm, don’t decide you are going to start sleeping at 9 pm. Choose 10:30, or start small by going with 10:15 pm. You want to choose a time that you can realistically stick to 90% of the time.
B) Track your progress.
It’s not important how you do this, just that you do it.
James Clear has an amazing article outlining different strategies to track habits. I highly recommend checking it out, and more importantly choosing a strategy that works for you.
My personal favorite, because it’s so easy to stick with:
Every night before you hop in bed and every morning when you wake up, write down in a notebook or on a piece of paper what time it is.
AND THAT’S IT.
After a couple of weeks, you will have a good idea of what time you are actually getting to bed.
2. Morning Sunlight vs Evening Screen-Light
Your body tells time and coordinates bodily functions by the amount and type of light it is exposed to throughout the day.
Light exposure in the first half of the day (preferably natural sunlight) rewinds your circadian clock and gives your body a definitive signal that it is daylight and a time to be awake, alert, and active.
The lack of light in the evenings tells your body and brain that it is time to start winding things down to get ready to sleep.
The main ways your body senses light are through your eyes and, surprisingly enough, your ears which have a significant amount of receptors that sense light.
What gets you in trouble:
- staying indoors most of the day without getting any natural light
- watching tv, scrolling through your phone, or hopping on the computer before going to bed
All of your devices with a screen emit what is called, blue light. This one of the many types of light coming from the sun, but most importantly, the type of light responsible for telling your body that it’s time to wake up and get started on your day.
When you are exposed to this kind of light at night, your body gets confused and delays the process of secreting melatonin , an important hormone for falling asleep and staying asleep.
Blue light exposure at night has been to shown to :
- make it harder to fall asleep
- make it harder to stay asleep
- make it harder to wake up rested
A) Get direct morning/midday sunlight
- Just 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day will help keep your circadian rhythm on schedule.
- Do not wear sunglasses during this time if possible during this time(its only 10-15 minutes). As I said above, the main way your body senses light is through the eyes. If you cover your eyes with the latest sun-blocking technology, you don’t get the benefits of sun exposure.
- If you are really feeling like going all-in (and you have the appropriate environment for it) take your shirt off, or if that’s a little much, roll up your sleeves to show a little skin and soak up as much sunlight as you can in the morning
B) Avoid blue light at night
- Wearing blue light blocking glasse s at night while on your phone, computer or watching TV.
- Simply avoid screens after dark and before bed. Read a paper book, spend some quality time with your family, unplug.
3. Nightly Stress Management
The most important hormone secreted to manage your sleep/wake cycle is cortisol, aka the stress hormone.
Ideally your levels of cortisol peak in the morning to wake you up and then slowly decline throughout the day.
If you can stay in this nice rhythm, you have a really good chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, your workday usually has something to say about that.
Between traffic, stress at work, and life stressors, there are a million and one reasons your cortisol might get bumped up throughout the day. If these stresses are chronic, meaning they show up consistently, they can lead to a chronic elevation of your cortisol levels.
When your cortisol levels become chronically elevated, they may not be low enough at night for you to fall asleep easily. Or they may spike early in the morning, way before your alarm goes off, waking you up and not letting you get those last few hours of sleep you deserve.
Create an evening routine that works for YOU.
Developing a nightly wind-down routine has been shown to you get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed by lowering your cortisol levels after a potentially hectic day.
Check out Austin Gilli s’ article for an in-depth look at some great evening routine ideas and strategies.
It doesn’t matter whether you are into:
- breathing and meditation
- reading a good fiction book or biography
- sitting down and watching a funny, relaxing tv show (you put your blue-light blocking glasses on first of course)
By consistently taking time to relax and slow down before bed, you are lowering your cortisol levels and priming your body for a great night’s sleep.
4. Morning Movement
The 4th factor affecting our circadian rhythm is movement.
Studies have shown that activity (even low-level activities such as stretching, yoga, a walk around the block) first thing in the morning help to reset your circadian rhythm and get your body ready for the day
Where we get in trouble:
Going from laying in bed to sitting in your car, to sitting in the office, to sitting in the car again, plopping on the couch after work, and then getting back in bed at night.
While this isn’t healthy in general, you are not giving your body any signal what-so-ever that the day has started and it’s time to get the blood pumping.
Activity in the morning.
Your body needs movement to transport nutrients and blood to our muscles and internal organs after MOST of us have been stationary all night…you know who you are. (looking at you bed-hogs/sleeping karate experts).
If you don’t already have a morning exercise habit, start by picking one simple activity such as stretching, yoga, or going for a walk and set the timer for just 5 minutes.
You can use one of the habit tracking techniques first referenced in the section on Sleep Schedule, and just shoot for consistency.
Your body, mind, and sleep will thank you.
Conclusion: Which factor are you tackling first?
There you have it!
The 4 factors that will help you to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and wake up ready to take on the day.
Which one are you going to tackle first? Is there something you struggle with that I left out?
Let me know in the comments below!