Have you eagerly tried to fix your sleep schedule before? Motivated perhaps by a new job, a healthier lifestyle, or a need to recover from jet lag?
If this was a lot harder than you were expecting, it probably went something like this: “I will go to sleep earlier, so I can wake up earlier.” It’s a pretty logical equation—that doesn’t always add up.
Falling asleep becomes difficult, no matter how comfortable your mattress is, and when it’s time to wake up you wish you could sleep more. But there’s no time, and you have to get on with your day whether you’re ready or not.
If time allows, you may sleep more—but then you wake up regretting it. Sleep has come at the expense of your plan and productivity. You want to just turn back the clock, but you can’t. It’s like you’re starting your day in the wrong lane, stuck in your own personal traffic jam.
If this has happened to you, it’s not your fault.
Fixing Your Sleep Schedule Begins with Waking Up
Trying to fix your sleep schedule by going to bed early is understandable. Saying yes to an earlier bedtime is less painful than waking up before you’re ready. But falling asleep early goes against your current sleep schedule and will leave you at a disadvantage when the alarm sounds too soon.
Nothing can feel heavier than needing more sleep and not receiving it. This is due to emotions and something called our “sleep drive,” which represents our body’s intrinsic need for sleep. When our sleep drive is interrupted at its peak, we go into survival mode—just as if we are starving, gasping for air, or running for safety.
If you need to fix your sleep schedule, you must allow your sleep drive to collect enough “desire” before your next bedtime. This means giving it a head start if you want to fall asleep earlier. Yes, this is another way of saying some level of sleep deprivation may be necessary, but this approach has some distinct advantages.
Using Emotions to Your Advantage
Emotions can navigate us through sleep deprivation better than they can navigate us to sleep.
You know something your sleep drive doesn’t, which is that you’re intentionally depriving your body of some sleep for its own good—an even stronger intent for survival. And this is key. Without this intention, emotions become unaware of the higher good and we can become stalled by uncertainty.
A powerful mantra I share with my insomnia clients going through this transition is: “Last night I got enough sleep for what I have to do today.” This statement acknowledges the sleep you did get, while not handing too much power to the sleep you didn’t get.
The idea isn’t to lie to yourself, but to recognize that you’ve been able to do it in the past. Without an awareness and belief that you can still navigate the day, less sleep than usual can feel heavier than it really is.
Before you fret at the thought of needing to survive sleep deprivation, there are several other approaches you can take to fix your sleep schedule that are less drastic, more pleasurable, will help you feel more grounded, and include zero sleep deprivation.
Consider the Basics Before Making Big Changes
A helpful understanding for fixing sleep is that there are two separate components involved: the sleep drive and the sleep clock.
A sleep drive is personal, and it’s what allows humans (who are diurnal beings) to work night shifts and sleep during the day. A sleep clock, however, is Mother Nature’s greatest gift—an evolutionary GPS that allows us to live optimally in our environment. We need a strong sleep drive, but it’s only when this drive for sleep is supported by an accurate sleep clock that one’s sleep schedule can truly run on time.
If you need to fix your sleep schedule, you may be in some sort of sleep-deprived state already. If this is the case, the hard work may already be behind you.
Setting Your Sleep Clock May Be All You Need
You were gifted a sleep clock with the “battery included.” This battery is sunlight. Getting 20 minutes of sunlight through the eyes first thing in the morning, and as much as you can throughout the day, will provide your sleep clock with the instructions it needs to guide you with cortisol and melatonin, so you can be awake and asleep at the appropriate times. Sunlight will set your clock for the day, while allowing your sleep drive to be felt much earlier—so you can fall asleep earlier.
Setting your sleep clock will be challenging, however, if you do not protect your eyes from unnatural blue light at night. Blue light, which is produced by light bulbs and technological devices, reverse all the benefits that sunlight provides for your clocks. Wearing high-quality blue-blocking glasses will alleviate this problem.
Fix Everything in Your Schedule—Not Just Sleep
Fixing your sleep schedule is just like changing time zones.
When you travel, the timing of everything changes—not just sleep. Think of anyone you know who is in a different time zone right now and how different their activities may be in the present moment. Behaving appropriately for your desired time zone will make falling asleep that much easier by the end of the day.
A great place setting when creating a new sleep schedule is food. Meals can naturally dictate the behaviors that occur between them. Try allowing your meals and activities to lead you to eating dinner at least 3 hours before your desired bedtime, if not earlier. The body has a tougher time preparing itself for sleep while it’s in a digestive state, which is just one of many reasons to consume meals that are easily digestible.
Make Changes in Increments
If your schedule allows for some time and patience, shifting your wake-up time in small increments—like 30 minutes—can lead to rapid transformation.
Waking up before you are ready likely means you are waking up between sleep cycles. Sleep cycles take about 90 minutes to complete, and waking up in the middle of one can be misleading. There’s an awareness that the body was in the middle of doing something important, and that can make you feel like you had less sleep than you actually did.
Making sleep changes in 30-minute increments can help you find the next safest stop, where your wake time meets the end of a sleep cycle. I’ve found that setting intentions to wake up before your alarm can allow your natural intelligence to sync these two moments.
The beauty in this process is creating just enough sleep deprivation that it isn’t noticeable. You sleep less, but wake up more alert. Your sleep clock and sleep drive will quickly adjust and draw you to an earlier bedtime.
Do a Hard Reset with Nature
Plugging yourself into nature is just like plugging your phone into the wall while hooked up to WiFi.
Plugging in your phone allows it to perform functions and receive instructions from satellites in the sky as optimally as possible, due to an abundance of electricity. Being in nature with no technology does the same for you and the functionality of your internal clocks.
Being in nature, seen by the sun and connected to the earth’s electricity, allows you to:
- Make a lot of melatonin (a sleep hormone)
- Make a lot of dopamine (a pleasure chemical)
- Produce less cortisol (a stress hormone)
- Reduce exposure to unnatural blue light, which destroys melatonin
- Eliminate exposure to unnatural electromagnetic frequencies, which disrupts melatonin
The closer you can get to how our ancestors lived a thousand years ago, the better. But simply moving in this direction will bring you some of these advantages.
Camping in the wild is the best way to immerse yourself in nature, but your version of this may just be booking a local vacation rental that’s tucked away from the city.
If getting away isn’t an option, try walking barefoot in the grass, disconnecting from your phone, or basking in a bentonite clay bath under candlelight. These are all ways you can optimize your body to fix your sleep schedule.