Even if you were born an early bird or a night owl, you can adjust your sleep time to address your life’s needs. If you want to try and change your internal clock you can if you adhere to a strict sleep schedule for the long term.
We don’t have all that much control over our bodies when it comes to when we will go to sleep and when we will wake up. Research shows that your sleep preferences are hard-wired into our system.
Most of us sleep on a “normal” schedule to match workdays and school times, meaning we get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. Without that structure in place, though your internal clock must just run on a different schedule. It’s been determined that biological and psychological functions follow a 24-hour pattern – the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythms control everything from the cycle our body temperature operates on to wakefulness rhythms to the secretion of the hormones melatonin and cortisol (sleep-inducing hormones). Your circadian rhythms respond to environmental signals such as light and dark and also change as we age.
It’s the external stimuli such as sunlight that wakes us. Many individuals have a natural tendency toward staying awake late at night or waking early in the morning, simply based on genetics.
Even though our bodies may be hard-wired to crave certain sleep and wake times, there is help available for those who swing to extremes of the early bird and night owl spectrum.
If circumstances in your life dictate that you have to work against genetics and reset your internal clock, there are ways to do it. To get yourself going earlier in the morning, you need to get to bed earlier at night. If you’re not accustomed to going to sleep early, get into a habit of undertaking relaxation routines about 90 minutes before bedtime. Listen to calming music, do some stretching and relaxation exercises, enjoy a cup of warm milk or tea. If you calm your mind, sleep will naturally follow.
If morning still finds you groggy, pull on your walking shoes and get outdoors. The bright morning sunshine will stimulate your senses and the walk will get your heart pumping. Once you get to work, give your mind time to truly wake up. Schedule simple activities for the first part of the day and save the more intense projects until you’re truly alert.
If you’re a morning person but still find yourself wanting to nod off after lunch, you need to reset your internal clock to address the “post lunch dip.” This usually occurs around 2:30 p.m. In some cultures, a siesta is a built-in part of the day and allows those whose body’s simply aren’t functioning at full speed to catch a few winks. Since our culture isn’t one of those that offers midday naps, you need to get up and move around. Walk outside if possible, socialize with co-workers for a few minutes.
Frequent travelers also deal with internal clock issues when they face the stresses of jet lag. They function best when they adjust their sleep schedules – to the anticipated time zone – a couple of days in advance of traveling.
Regardless of what your work or school schedules are, you don’t want to shortchange yourself on your nighttime sleep. Your body needs a good eight hours of sleep in order to repair and refresh itself to take on the challenges that each day brings.