Mornings can be tough, especially when we’re not getting the sleep we need. Which is exactly why we’ve created the ultimate guide to building a better sleep schedule to fit your daily routine. But before we get into it, let’s review the basics of sleep biology.
Your circadian rhythm
Just like the hours of the day, humans run on an internal clock that tells us when we should go to sleep each night and wake up each morning. This internal rhythm is triggered by hormones in the brain, but it also relates to the light we receive throughout the day. Most of us start getting sleepy when the sun goes down and alert when the light leaks into our bedrooms in the morning. But for night owls and shift workers, this circadian rhythm can change. Whether you’re an early riser or like to sleep in, maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help you to keep your rhythm in check.
The sleep cycles
While you sleep, your brain goes through a series of 5 to 6 sleep cycles that enable your body to rest and recover from the day. Each sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes, and consists of two main categories: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).
The stages of sleep
The first 2 to 3 stages of the sleep cycle occur shortly after you drift off. This is the time your body goes into NREM, also known as the light stages of sleep. During NREM sleep, you can easily be awoken by a slight disturbance, but as you cycle through these phases, your brain waves begin to slow down, in preparation for deep sleep. Once you reach the REM stage, your body will be in a deep sleep for the rest of the 90-minute sleep cycle. It’s at this stage that you’re most likely to dream.
Why do sleep cycles matter?
Your body doesn’t like being disrupted during the deep sleep phase, so if you don’t time your alarm to match your internal clock, you may wake up feeling groggy and tired. In an ideal scenario, we would all wake up without an alarm, but for those of us who need an extra nudge to get out of bed in the morning, finding the right time for your wake up call is extremely important. If you want help synching your alarm with your sleep cycle, you can try a sleep cycle calculator here.
How do I plan my personal sleep schedule?
The first thing to consider when planning your sleep schedule is your daily routine. If you work a 9 to 5 job, for example, you’ll want to factor in your commute, how long it takes you to eat and get ready, plus a little extra “me” time in the morning. By planning out your sleep schedule in advance, you should be able to get a good night’s sleep without having to rush out the door each morning. Once you know approximately what time you need to wake up, then you can move on to planning your bedtime routine.
Why does it matter what time I go to bed?
Sleep is a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle. A good night’s sleep allows your body the chance to store memories and recover from the day, and can also affect your mood, productivity, and general wellbeing. But if you don’t set aside the time needed for a full night’s sleep every night, you’re not going to wake up feeling alert and ready for the day ahead.
Don’t cut corners
According to a study by the National Sleep Association, the amount of sleep we need depends on how old we are. For example, growing teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, while adults over the age of 26 need only 7-9. If you want to find out how much sleep you need, you can check out the National Sleep Association’s guide here. But also keep in mind that every body is different, and some of us need more sleep than others. Before you plan your sleep schedule, you should consider your past experiences with sleep, and how much rest you need to feel bright and focused each day.
What time should I go to sleep and wake up?
Once you’ve figured out exactly how many hours of sleep you need each night, you can finally plan your sleep schedule. We suggest starting backwards, beginning with the time you need to get up each morning, leaving yourself enough space in your schedule for your morning routine. For example: If you need 8 hours of sleep each night and need to wake up at 7AM in order to make it on time for work, you’re going to want to set your bedtime for 11PM. But in order to make sure you’re really getting the full night of sleep you need, you might want to plan on getting into bed a little earlier than your sleep schedule suggests.
Your bedtime routine
For the best night’s sleep, setting a bedtime routine is just as important as setting an alarm. Not only can taking a few moments to relax before bed help you sleep better, but it can also be a great way to decompress from the day. If you struggle with falling asleep at night, baths, herbal tea, and aromatherapy can all be great triggers to get you in the mood to snooze. We also recommend keeping your electronics out of the room for at least an hour before you go to sleep, as blue lights have been proven to disrupt the body’s internal sleep schedule.
Your morning routine
We like to suggest that you take a little time for yourself each morning, whether that’s meditating, exercising, or catching up on the news. For those of us waking up with an alarm, jumping on your phone to check emails first thing in the morning can be tempting, but sometimes, it’s nice to take a moment to relax and clear your head before you start the day.
Your sleep setup
It doesn’t matter what time you go to bed or wake up if your sleep setup isn’t up to par. Not only can a bad mattress keep you up tossing in turning in the night, but things like bright morning light, street noise, and temperature can affect your sleep cycle, even when you don’t notice it. If you live on a busy street, it might be good to invest in some comfortable ear plugs. Blackout curtains can also help with street noise, while shielding you from pesky morning light that can interrupt your REM sleep.
A last word on sleep schedules
Now you have all the information you need to plan your perfect sleep schedule, but there’s one more thing to keep in mind. Thanks to our circadian rhythm, the body functions best when we go to sleep and wake up at the same time each and every night. That means it’s extremely important to stick to your sleep schedule, day and night. Sleep tight!
Want to know more about the magical benefits of sleep? Learn all about the benefits of a good night’s rest here.
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