Trying to figure out how to reset your sleep schedule is one of the most frustrating parts of being a human.
You can’t deny that you just need to sleep a certain number of hours and get a certain quality of rest every night.
But however hard you try to get a goodnight’s sleep on a consistent basis, even if you succeed for a while there’s just ALWAYS something that eventually comes along to mess it up.
Maybe you get sick, or you go to a late movie showing, or you procrastinated on a project, or you eat too much, or you have too much to drink.
It’s always pretty annoying when just one bad night completely turns your sleep cycle upside down so that every waking moment of every single day thereafter feels like the most intense, excruciating agony you’ve ever experienced in your entire life.
For me, it’s when daylight saving time begins or ends.
Freaking. Daylight. Saving. Time.
The trouble with ignoring a messed up sleep schedule is that it often gets worse over time.
You’re already staying up late, so what different does it make if you stay up just 10 minutes later?
Before you know it, your body clock is out of whack and even when you try to go to bed early, you end up lying there wide awake for two hours.
How to Reset Your Sleep Schedule the Wrong Way
The most common way people often try to reset their sleep schedule is the “quick and dirty” way.
It goes something like this:
- Stay up late, obviously, because you’re not going to be able to fall asleep anyway if you try to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. so what’s the point?
- Go to sleep when you feel like it (which could be anywhere from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) but of course set an alarm (or maybe two) to wake you up at some ungodly hour.
- Force yourself to get up when that alarm goes off.
- Fight through the pain of sleep deprivation all day.
- Pass out early for the night (maybe even as early as 7 p.m.) with the expectation of getting up early the next morning and every morning after that.
Now there are three typical outcomes for the following morning:
- Wake up early again with an alarm, but this time it feels doubly hard.
- Wake up early again with an alarm and actually feel refreshed, but struggle to go to sleep early again that night.
- Totally sleep through the alarm because sleep compensation is needed to make up for sleep deprivation.
This is the type of quick fix strategy that simply doesn’t work in the long-term.
And you know what?
It applies to almost any major change you want to make — from forcing yourself to go on a diet, to pushing yourself to hit it hard at the gym.
Too much change made too fast usually ends up backfiring.
The truth is that all major habits take time to develop and become hardwired into your mind and body.
So I’m proposing a much more practial and effective technique for how to reset your sleep schedule.
It’s not instant.
It takes committment.
But if you do it, it will work.
Step 1: Determine whether you’re more of a morning person or a night owl.
I think most people probably have a pretty good idea about which one the are.
If you don’t, take a moment to think about when you feel the most alert, the most creative, the most productive, and the most motivated to actually do stuff.
You’re probably a morning person if:
- You wake up naturally in the morning, even if you went to bed late, and even on weekends.
- You don’t need to rely on coffee to feel energized in the morning.
- You find it easy to make the best decisions and do your best work before noon.
- You find it hard to keep working or doing anything productive in the evening hours.
- When you do go to bed, you’re out like a light pretty quickly.
On the other hand, you’re probably a night owl if:
- You rely on at least one alarm to get you up in the morning and it feels difficult to get up every day.
- You sleep in on weekends.
- You rely on coffee to feel alert throughout the morning.
- You feel sluggish in the morning and prefer to do easy tasks until you feel more awake.
- You make your best decisions and do your best work in the afternoon or evening.
- You find it relatively easy to be productive in the evening hours.
- You have a hard time going to bed at a decent hour and hardly ever fall asleep within minutes.
There’s real science suggesting that the night person/morning person thing isn’t just all in your head — it’s part of your unique biological composition.
Everything from your blood pressure to your hormones work to influence your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the the cyclical changes your body goes through over a typical 24-hour period.
It was only recently discovered that a person’s genes actually affect their circadian rhythm, thus suggesting that changing your habits to force your sleep cycle a certain way isn’t as easy (or ideally healthy) as you’ve probably been led to think.
So what am I getting at here?
My point is that not everybody is going to benefit from forcing themselves to get up earlier or stay up later, and that should be something important to consider when designing your ideal sleep cycle.
If you already know that your alertness sweet spot lies between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m., then working a typical 9-to-5 schedule isn’t going to line up so great with the way you’re naturally wired.
If there’s something you can do to maybe start working even just an hour later (or earlier — whatever floats your boat), then it can make all the difference in your performance AND your health.
To use myself as an example, I’m a classic night owl, and I discovered that getting up at 5 a.m. is usually not optimal for me — even though I’m hugely attracted to the idea of being one those mega early birds.
It’s too hard on my body clock, and I struggle with it even when I get a good eight hours of sleep.
Fighting your body’s natural rhythm can cause unnecessary stress, so as a result, I’ve adjusted my own personal wake-up time to about 7:30 a.m., and it’s made all the difference.
Lucky for me, I have the flexibility and natural hermit-like lifestyle habits of being a freelancer so I can design my schedule the way I want.
I realize that people who have to start working at a specific time or people who have kids will have the hardest time with this, but just like everything you want to change in your life, effort and sacrifice are almost always involved, so YOU have to decide how bad you want it.
If you’re sick of feeling completely out of it all day and can’t stand being wide awake anymore when you should be asleep, it’s time for you to stop letting all the things in your life be your lame excuse for your rotten sleep habits and find a way to balance both life and your sleep as best you can.