***The average adult sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes in length. We cycle through the different stages of sleep a number of times when we sleep at night, depending on when you fall asleep and when you wake up. As morning approaches, we spend more time in REM, or light sleep. For this reason, we sometimes struggle to fall back asleep during the early part of the morning when environmental disturbances (birds/dogs/traffic/sunlight – you name it!) are present. Going to bed earlier helps to ensure we hit the deep, restorative stage of sleep more often. Making the conscious decision to do so and then actually be consistent about your bedtime, however, is a whole other ballgame. Despite knowing the optimal amount of sleep we need each night, we often fail to commit to a schedule that ensures we are well rested. Carving out a predictable daily schedule that includes a set time to both go to sleep and wake up (including weekends!) is an important strategy to help regulate your body’s internal rhythm. This type of consistency can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep, which leads to improved energy levels, a greater ability to concentrate and fewer mood swings. Here’s a few pointers on how to set yourself up for success: Set your wake up time. The first step in trying to establish consistency in your sleep patterns is to identify and stick to a time to start your day. Gaining control of your wake up time can help to set the tone for your day, (and will feel like an accomplishment as you work on improving your sleep habits!). Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Set your alarm to the time that you are likely to wake up. Hitting the snooze button repeatedly can actually make it more difficult to wake up, because you aren’t getting to a restorative phase of sleep.
- Place your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you essentially force yourself to get out of bed to turn it off. If you always need an alarm clock to wake up, it could indicate that you need to go to bed earlier.
- Consider investing in an alarm clock that uses increasing light levels, rather than a harsh alarm sound to wake you up.
- As you work on your morning patterns, you can then take the time to re-evaluate other lifestyle and behavioral choices such as stress management and nutrition that may be impacting your ability to fall asleep at bedtime.
- Choose an appropriate bedtime, which is one that aligns with your level of fatigue. If you aren’t tired enough, you will end up feeling frustrated and fight sleep more so than if you had timed your bedtime appropriately. If your current bedtime is later because you fight sleep, you will need to gradually adjust your bedtime by going to bed earlier by 15-20 minutes at a time until you reach a one that matches your sleep needs. Try keeping a journal to identify when you feel fatigue set in, and work towards a bedtime that aligns with that time of day.
- Fight the urge to nap when low energy levels set in during the early evening. Allowing yourself to do so could result in difficulty initiating sleep, or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Instead, focus on activities that will help maintain alertness – getting some fresh air or exercising are both great tactics.
- Take the time to prepare yourself for sleep. Going to bed at 10pm and getting ready for bed at 10pm are not the same. Consider setting a bedtime alarm that goes off 45-60 minutes prior to your desired bedtime to mentally and physically prepare yourself for sleep. You can also add your bedtime to your day planner to serve as a constant reminder of your goal. Sweet dreams!