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The Importance of a Regular Sleep Schedule and How to Improve Yours

Updated November 27, 2019

There’s no better way to start your day than by getting a solid night of quality zzz’s – you know, the kind that makes you feel like a Disney princess when you wake up. Clocking a full night of snoozing every now and then is great, but what if you could do that night after night, to the tune of seven hours or more of deep, uninterrupted sleep? A consistent sleep schedule is paramount when it comes to your health, mood, and energy level.

In fact, getting good sleep is not as hard as it sounds. Keep reading to find out how to fix your sleep schedule so you’ll be ready to take on the day, every day.

The health benefits of following a proper sleep schedule 

female stretching arms in bed

Following a proper sleep schedule is about so much more than getting some shut-eye. The health benefits of giving your body quality rest are endless. Here are just a few reasons getting consistently good sleep is great for your health:

  1. Poor sleep can lead to metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes.
  2. Consistent sleep can help prevent or reduce depression.
  3. Quality sleep improves your immune system function.
  4. A proper sleep schedule lowers the risk of atherosclerosis, a medical condition that causes plaque buildup in the arteries.
  5. Irregular sleep is linked to the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by the degeneration of brain cells.
  6. Recalling emotional memories is affected by poor sleep.
  7. Shorter durations of sleep can cause weight gain.
  8. Sleep duration affects the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  9. Bad sleep causes subpar physical performance in older women.
  10. Improper sleep can lead to major increases in inflammation, especially for those with gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The science behind a proper sleep schedule 

Did you know your brain is self-cleaning? Every day, it builds up metabolic waste while performing normal body functions and naturally clears out the waste over time. This process is called the glymphatic system.

Too much waste buildup can lead to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, and one study revealed that the brain can dump waste twice as fast when you’re asleep. Your brain cells shrink by 60% while you’re sleeping, making for some fast-acting trash cleanup.

Your body cycles through two types of sleep every night: slow-wave sleep (also known as deep sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The slow-wave cycle is the repair cycle. This is when your body slows down, relaxes, and lowers your blood pressure. During this stage, your body releases growth hormones, which regenerate tissue and build muscle. The REM cycle is when your brain gets rejuvenation time for boosting memory, clearing out waste, and facilitating neural growth. Without a quality sleep schedule, your brain and body can’t fully restore themselves for the next day.

How to fix your sleep schedule 

Fixing your sleep schedule starts with understanding what constitutes a good night’s sleep. “Good” sleep rests on two main pillars: duration (how long you are sleeping) and consistency (how often you are sleeping well).

A report using data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and published in the medical journal Sleep revealed that nearly one-third of American adults are lacking in both. Among the 400,000 Americans who took the survey, 40.9% of African Americans, 32.9% of Hispanics, and 30.9% of Caucasians revealed they got less than six hours of sleep every night.

The Center for Disease Control recommends at least seven hours of sleep for adults aged 18 and older, though more is recommended for infants, children, and teenagers. And if someone is getting less than six hours of sleep night after night, their sleep schedule is likely in need of an overhaul. Does that sound like you? Follow these steps to get your sleep schedule on the right track.

Set up a prime sleep environment 

Think about what keeps you up at night. Is it the feeling of being too hot? Does your old mattress leave you tossing and turning? Is light pollution pouring in through your window? Start by addressing these issues. Outfit your bed with a supportive mattress, invest in some heat- and moisture-wicking sheets, and throw some blackout curtains on the window. Set your air conditioner or heating unit to a regulated temperature that keeps you comfortable throughout the night.

Try wearable tech and sleep apps

male sleeping on his side with a sleep tracking watch

Wearable technology and apps can help you track everything from how many calories you’re burning in a day to how many steps you take to how well you’re sleeping. Tracking your sleep cycle pinpoints times during the night where you may be waking up or getting less restful sleep.

With apps like the Apple Watch’s SleepWatch, you’ll receive sleep data every morning, including the duration of your sleep, your average heart rate, and how much of your snoozing was restful. You can also set sleep goals and get notifications every time you achieve them. Over time, the app learns about your nighttime routine and will suggest changes to assist you in improving your sleep schedule.

Follow a consistent morning and bedtime routine

While it may be tempting to sleep in on your day off, that type of variation can disrupt your sleep schedule. Aim to wake up and go to sleep around the same time every day. Following certain rituals every morning and night will help your body get into a routine of knowing when it’s time for bed and  when it’s time to start the day.

For example, before going to bed, you could throw on a pair of slippers, make a cup of chamomile tea, and crack open a book. The point is to feel relaxed and create distance from your hectic day at school or work. The following morning, you can turn on some music, open the curtains, and brew a cup of coffee. A consistent routine begets a consistent sleep schedule over time. Of course, there will be off days here and there when you stay out late for an event or wake up early for a flight. The goal isn’t perfection, just general consistency.

Cut back on caffeine

Drinking caffeine into the afternoon and evening can affect your ability to fall asleep – and stay asleep. This can become a vicious cycle if you have to chug even more caffeine the next day to stay awake. Try to stick to a cup or two of coffee in the morning, then switch to a decaffeinated tea when you need a midday boost.

Avoid unnatural sleep aids

Using a prescribed sleep aid every once in a while won’t completely throw off your sleep schedule, but using sleep aids as a crutch can have the opposite effect of what you intended. Your tolerance increases the more you use certain sleep aids, which means you will likely have to up the dose over time.

Knowledge is power 

Fixing your sleep schedule starts with understanding what makes for a good night’s sleep. Consistency doesn’t require overhauling your whole life – you simply need to commit to improving some daily habits and changing up your sleep environment. With a few tweaks, you’ll be on your way to dreamland every night.