Getting enough sleep is absolutely critical for your health. Generally speaking, most adults need somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep, while teenagers need about eight or ten hours. Sleep needs will vary depending on the person, but research shows that depriving yourself of sleep can have serious consequences for your health. One of the key factors to making sure you’re getting enough shut-eye is creating a consistent sleep schedule.
A sleep schedule is a basic routine where you wake up and go to bed around the same time every day. Creating this pattern trains your body to expect to be awake during the day and asleep at night. It makes it easier to fall asleep at night and then wake up in the morning feeling well-rested, even if it’s the break of dawn. Of course, sticking to a sleep schedule is much easier said than done.
When first starting out, ease into your new schedule. Maybe you recently got a new job that requires you to wake up two hours earlier than usual, which means that you need to go to bed two hours earlier. Make adjustments towards this schedule slowly, so that you’re not lying in bed unable to fall asleep for two hours. It will take some time to train your body to learn the new schedule.
Perhaps the most crucial element to building a sleep schedule is sticking with it every single day. If you give yourself “a break” on the weekends, your circadian rhythm will get confused and it will be just a bit harder to wake up on time when Monday rolls around again.
In addition to going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, there are a few other things you can do that help you get on a healthy sleep schedule. For example, avoiding sugary drinks or food late at night can help you fall asleep a bit more easily. Similarly, depending on how affected you are by caffeine, you may need to cut back on coffee as early as 2pm or 3pm.
Creating a consistent exercise regimen can also help you sleep better at night. According to WebMD, “people who exercise at least 150 minutes a week sleep better at night and feel more alert during the day.” That being said, high-intensity cardio workouts late at night can actually have a negative impact on your sleep because they raise your heart rate and body temperature. Try to get those workouts earlier in the day, or you could try taking a cold shower to bring your body temperature down.
When you’re getting close to the time that you need to be going to sleep, you want to introduce as many calming and relaxing elements as you possibly can. If you find yourself in need of some inspiration, look no further than Ariana Huffington, a long-time advocate for the importance of sleep. Huffington recommends shutting down all technology at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Not only does the light from screens stimulate your brain and make it harder for you to fall asleep, but also, if you’re looking through your messages or wandering the Internet, you’re likely to find something that excites you or makes you anxious, keeping you awake even longer.
Huffington also suggests creating “sacrosanct ritual” in the 30 minutes to an hour before your bedtime. Find things that calm you and help you let go of the business of the day. This might be a relaxing bath or a meditation session while wearing a soothing face mask. Forming habits like these will create a trigger for your body to recognize that it’s time to sleep.
Of course, it’s easy to maintain a healthy sleep schedule when everything else in your life is going smoothly, but that is rarely the case. There are late nights working at the office or hanging out with friends. There are trips across different time zones that leave you jet-lagged and exhausted. If you have young children, you might be up late taking care of them.
It can feel a bit disheartening to work so hard to build a sleep schedule and then have it all fall apart because your schedule was busy for a period of time. If this happens, give yourself some grace. No one is perfect, and it’s impossible to always have a perfect sleep schedule. Maybe you need a day or two where you allow yourself a 30-minute nap in the afternoon to catch up on sleep. Take some time to ease back into your sleep schedule, making adjustments as needed. The important thing is to get back to a place where you’re getting enough sleep, so that you’re taking care of your health.