It may sound like your circadian rhythm is so sensitive that it derails easily — and there’s some truth to that. Even a small change can cause a slight speed bump in your sleep patterns. In modern life, it’s easy to run into a situation where, say, you need to work late or are watching a great movie at 1 a.m. or have some other perfectly valid reason to not sleep on schedule.
If that’s the case, there’s no need for worry. Just as you can reset a clock or wristwatch, so, too, can you reset your body’s internal clock.
- Take melatonin supplements: Melatonin is a chemical that already exists naturally in your body. This hormone is what helps you associate a decrease in light as the time to rest and an increase in light as the time to be awake. Unfortunately, melatonin decreases with age. Melatonin supplements can help you re-establish your circadian rhythm if you take them right before bed.
- Establish consistent, healthy sleep habits: If your circadian rhythm has been disrupted, chances are you don’t have consistent and healthy sleep habits. You can remedy this by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Over time, your body will adjust to your new sleep schedule and re-establish your circadian rhythm.
- Caffeine: As delicious as caffeine-infused drinks are, try to curb your intake at least several hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can take up to six hours to leave your body so curb your intake much earlier in the day.
- Bright Light Therapy: Bright light therapy, or chronotherapy, can help with your sleep since lighting is strongly tied to how we rest. Consult with your physician on what the best course of action is for you, but you do not need a prescription to purchase a light therapy box. Set up your light near where you work or sit and let the light do it’s work. Be consistent when you choose to utilize light therapy.
- Watch your meal schedule: when you eat has some impact on your circadian rhythm. For one thing, it’s a good idea to avoid eating too late in the evening and to avoid heavy meals at dinnertime. Your body’s digestive processes will still be rumbling away then when you go to bed, and may disrupt your sleep. If you need a late-night snack, consider a food that will help you sleep, such as bananas or turkey.
- Exercise regularly: exercise is good for your body overall, but there is ample evidence that regular exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and has a positive impact on the quality of your sleep. According to John Hopkins Medicine, just 30 minutes of moderate-impact aerobic exercise (think: a brisk walk or active yoga class) will lead to a solid difference in sleep quality.
- Make adjustments to light: When you get up in the morning, it’s a great idea to get out in the sunshine as soon as you can, if possible. Morning light will trigger your circadian rhythms to tell your body that it’s time to rise and shine, and be active and productive. Likewise, dimming lights for an hour or so before bed tells your body the opposite, that it’s time to wind down to get some shut-eye.
As enjoyable as it is to stay up late watching TV or playing video games, your body’s inner clock intuitively knows what is required to get the rest you need. Fortunately, if your circadian rhythm does get thrown off — perhaps you are traveling or taking a late shift at work — there are lots of ways to re-establish it and get settled into a consistent period of sleep.
Consider utilizing light therapy, melatonin, and our other suggestions to reset your brain and get the rest you need. Consult with your doctor if you’re having trouble establishing a regular sleep pattern as you may have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.