When it comes to sleep, I subscribe to the “listen to your body” mindset. I’m a freelance writer, meaning I can go to bed whenever I want and wake up either on my own or whenever my emergency alarm finally jolts me awake (assuming I remembered to set one). There’s little consistency, and I feel little shame in hitting the snooze button five times. I’ve never really questioned my process—even though I regularly fall victim to a presleep toss-and-turn and wake up feeling sluggish.
After talking to Jade Wu, PhD, a board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist and author of the new book Hello Sleep, I’m inspired to make my sleep habits a little more routine. A consistent sleep-wake schedule, Dr. Wu tells SELF, is incredibly important when it comes not only to sleeping soundly at night, but keeping a number of body functions—like digestion, hormone regulation, and body temperature—in check.
One simple way to get into a groove of sleeping better: Wake up at the same time every morning. “The reason you want to get up around the same time every day is because the body functions best when it runs consistently on a rhythm,” Dr. Wu says. Here’s why it’s a great idea for so many health and happiness reasons (regardless of whether you actually have to)—plus how to make it happen if you’re getting sleepy just thinking about it.
Waking up at the same time each morning can help you sleep better at night—and make it easier to get out of bed in the morning.
Your body clock, or circadian rhythm, is the system that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It’s heavily dependent on clues from your environment, says Dr. Wu, which is why light makes you feel alert and awake, and why you start to feel sleepy around dusk. The light you see when you wake up essentially tells your body it’s morning, meaning it’s time to get out of bed and start your day.
By opening your eyes like clockwork every morning, you’re essentially programming your body for better sleep. “Consistently having that light cue at the same time in the morning will go a really long way in anchoring your 24-hour clock,” Dr. Wu says. Over time, your body will automatically know when to release melatonin—a hormone that induces sleepiness—at night and when to stop producing it in the morning, she explains, which can make it easier to both fall asleep at night and wake up ready to go in the morning.
Inconsistent wake-up times can really mess with your body clock.
If you wake up at different times each day—or even if you keep a pretty consistent sleep schedule during the week but sleep in every weekend—your brain will get confused and start to release melatonin at weird hours. It’s kind of like constantly traveling to different time zones and getting jet-lagged, Dr. Wu explains. If your wake-up times are all over the place, it’ll likely be harder to get a good night’s sleep, she says, and you may have issues concentrating the next day.
After an unrestful night “we’re slower and more sluggish,” Dr. Wu adds. Over time, an inconsistent waking schedule can contribute to a host of health concerns; it can strain your heart, interfere with your metabolism, impair immune functioning, and increase your risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. “When your circadian rhythm doesn’t run well, nothing in your body really runs well,” as Dr. Wu puts it.
Sometimes life gets in the way of your best-laid plans (heh), and you may wonder if it’s more important to get enough sleep or wake up on schedule. You don’t want to be sleep-deprived, but you want to try to maintain some consistency, says Dr. Wu. “Let yourself wiggle by an hour,” she says. If you usually wake up at 8 a.m., but had a late night and want to sleep in, make sure you’re up by 9 a.m.
so you don’t throw your body clock off too much. If you still feel groggy, pencil in a 20- to 30-minute midday nap (before 3 p.m. is ideal so it doesn’t mess with your nighttime sleep). If you can’t fit in a nap, try to relax or shut your eyes for 10 minutes (even if it’s at your desk on your lunch break), Dr. Wu suggests—simply resting can restore and reenergize your brain without throwing your circadian rhythm off, she says.
Training your body to wake up at the same time every morning might take some work, but it’s worth the effort.
Getting into the habit of waking up at the same time every day may take some practice and dedication, says Dr. Wu. As you’re adjusting to your new rise regimen, she recommends letting yourself hit snooze one time max (!!) and trying not to linger under the covers once you’re actually awake. If you seriously struggle to get out of bed, try scheduling something to look forward to once you do—a new type of coffee or your favorite podcast, perhaps. (If you consistently have trouble sleeping or waking up despite your best efforts, consider talking to a doctor to see if there’s an underlying health issue contributing to that).
If you get nothing else out of this article, expose yourself to some light as soon as you can after waking. Sit by a window, get a light box, walk your dog, have tea on your porch or balcony—whatever you can do to brighten your morning will likely help regulate your sleeping patterns and make you feel less groggy. “The more light you can get in your eyes the first thing in the morning, the easier it will become to continue to be up early,” Dr. Wu says.
Setting an alarm for the same time every day and adding a little brightness to my breakfasts feels like a low-stakes, high-reward way to make my days run better. I’ve never been a morning person, but for once it doesn’t seem entirely out of reach. Setting a daily alarm for 7:45 a.m. right now. (Okay—maybe 8. Either way, I’m doing it!)
Source: Waking Up at the Same Time Every Morning Can Lead to Better Sleep | SELF
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