Now that we are in the full swing of 2014, it may be time to reset your internal clock and get your circadian rhythm back on track. If you have been traveling, stressing, over-working or even over-indulging in holiday activities outside of your routine, you may have thrown you off of good, restful sleep.
Ready to get the rest you need and get in tune with your body clock? Try these tips to get your sleep cycle back in sync.
Use Bright Light in the Morning
Your body’s clock is “set” by cues like light, darkness, and when you eat or exercise. Light is the strongest of these cues. It tells your brain whether it’s night or day, and that tells you when to sleep.
- When you wake up, turn on bright lights and throw open the curtains to bring in daylight.
Dim the Lights in the Evening
Too much light at night pushes your sleep time later. To cut down on light at night:
- Keep lighting low near the end of the day. Turn off bright overhead lights.
- Ban laptops, tablets, cell phones, and TVs from your bedroom — and don’t use them in the hour or so before sleep. There is new research that shows that light specific to electronics can disrupt your circadian rhythm, so get those screens away from your bedroom.
Time Your Meals
When you eat may affect your internal clock; shifting meal times may help you handle changes in time zones or work schedules.
For example, if you are traveling from the U.S. to Europe — an 8-hour time difference—fast for 10 hours, about the length of the flight, and then eat as soon as you arrive. Re-setting meal time helps some ease jet lag.
At home, keep a regular routine for meals and exercise. That helps set a pattern for your internal clock and your sleep cycle.
Limit Your Time in Bed
Go to bed and get up at about the same times, even on weekends. Save the bed and bedroom for sleep and sex, not for excessive napping, watching television or playing video games!
You may be tempted to use caffeine to get over the afternoon hump. Don’t. Instead, avoid caffeine after lunch. It can affect your sleep that night.
Adapt for Travel by Shifting your Sleep/Wake Cycle
You can take the edge off jet lag, especially when traveling east, by shifting your sleep before you leave.
- If you’re flying east to a time zone where its three hours later — say from California to New York — go to bed and get up an hour earlier each evening and morning for the three days before you leave. By the third day, you should be on, or closer to, the time zone where you’re heading.
- If you’re going west, go to bed and get up an hour later each evening and morning for as many time zones you will cross, or as many as you can manage given the distance you are traveling.
If you don’t adapt your Sleep/Wake cycle ahead of time, do it as soon as you get there—get on that local time as quickly as possible.
Ask Your Doctor About Melatonin
Melatonin is a powerful hormone that your brain makes at night to help bring on sleep. A melatonin supplement may help, but be careful. Don’t self-medicate with melatonin! Get your doctor’s advice on whether you should use it, what dosage, whether you are a candidate for prolonged-release melatonin and the best time to take it.
High-tech devices that monitor your sleep cycle promise better sleep — like wrist or head bands that monitor your sleep cycle to find the best moment to wake you. But you might not need a fancy device.
Blackout shades, a soft fan to drown out noise, eye mask, ear plugs and unplugging the telephone are other low-tech and inexpensive options.
If you try these tips, practice good sleep hygiene and still have sleep problems, talk to your doctor. Restorative sleep is a serious health matter and you may have more complicated issues that need medical attention. There are many options to help treat sleep disorders, so you don’t need to just suffer! Take the steps reach out to a medical professional.