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Each of us has a biological clock that determines when we feel tired and awake. When our internal sleep clock is working correctly, it sends signals to our bodies to go to bed in the evening and get up in the morning. However, this sleep clock will sometimes become out of sync, throwing your regular schedule off.
This can impact your overall sleep quality and make it difficult to fall asleep and wake up at the appropriate times, leaving you sleep deprived or with “mental jetlag” that can affect performance and mood. You can use a few tools to get back on track, if you have a broken sleep clock.
Shift work, stress, or even a busier-than-normal schedule can all interrupt your typical sleeping pattern. While you can try napping to “catch up” on sleep, it has been discovered that napping to make up for lost sleep has the opposite effect of attempting to reset your erratic sleep schedule, and your body prefers to follow a consistent sleep pattern instead. I’ve found my sleep schedule to have worsened throughout the pandemic and have found the tried and tested following methods to help me reset my internal clock and get better sleep. So no more fighting sleepless nights and groggy days!
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Before we start resolving the issue, it’s a good idea to understand what your sleep clock is, what it does, and how it works so that these methods make sense.
The term “sleep clock” belongs to a collection of biological processes that regulate the circadian rhythm, or the cycle of wakefulness and tiredness. When this rhythm is working correctly, you will fall asleep around the same time each evening and wake up around the same time each morning.
Control the lighting
According to research, adjusting light exposure can help reset the body clock, especially in the case of constant sleep deprivation. Researchers place more emphasis on light than on any other form of sleep aid, finding that we can treat complex sleep phase disorders by strictly controlling our usage of unnatural light.
The daily cycles of light and darkness play a pivotal role in the processes that control your sleep clock and circadian rhythm. Without the presence of light, our brains expedite the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). You become drowsy and fall asleep over time when your melatonin levels are high (in the absence of light). When your body detects light again, it stops producing melatonin in order to wake you up.
To help boost your body’s melatonin production, make sure to turn off or dim bright lights at night to prepare yourself for sleep. You should also avoid using laptops, smartphones, or televisions with glowing electronic screens because they can stimulate your brain for many hours.
Eat nice and early
Wakefulness and sleepiness are influenced by digestion and metabolism. When and what you eat can help you to reset your body’s sleep clock. Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm by eating breakfast and dinner at the same time each day, with about 12 hours between the two. You should also try to eat a nutritious, filling breakfast soon after waking, and dinner at least a few hours before bed.
According to some researchers, saturated fats found in meat and dairy products may be harmful to consume close to bedtime, so the old wives’ tales about eating cheese before bed causing a restless night may be true. As a result, sticking to leaner dinners and eating heavier meals earlier in the day may be beneficial as well.
Exercise is key
Exercise is beneficial not only to your cardiovascular health but also to your sleep quality. Your biological clock controls the majority of muscle tissue repair. As a result, your strained muscle groups adjust to your body’s circadian rhythm when you exercise.
You don’t have to be a triathlete to reap these benefits; even light physical activity like taking a walk will help, and it’s a great way to get some much-needed natural daylight exposure. If you’re going to do a lot of exercise in the evening, keep in mind that it may overstimulate your body. Exercise at least one to two hours before bedtime if you want to exercise at night.
Getting well-informed about our sleep cycle and practising some good sleep hygiene has personally helped me with dealing with the lockdown grogginess, plus there are plenty of additional sources you can use to help you master your sleep schedule. For example, Andrew Huberman’s podcast on sleep and the mind was also a great help for me.
Suppose maintaining proper sleep hygiene doesn’t help reset your sleep routine, or your problematic sleep schedule is beginning to interfere with your everyday life. In that case, you should consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. They’ll be able to help you create a schedule, recommend supplements, and diagnose any sleep problems or underlying issues so you can get your sleep cycles back on track.