Sleep seems hard to come by these days for many people, myself included. I personally think it is a consequence of pandemic. We might not realize it, but the ongoing feeling of overwhelm and uncertainty can really take a toll on one’s sleep quantity and quality.
This is because our stress hormone, cortisol, also plays a role in regulating our sleep patterns. Cortisol and it’s counterpart melatonin tell our body when it's time to be awake and when it’s time to be asleep respectively. They regulate our circadian rhythm, our 24 hour internal clock, based on the exposure to light. When it’s bright out, our cortisol is higher to keep us awake and when it’s dark, melatonin takes over to help us fall asleep.
When we are dealing with ongoing stress, it can lead to irregular cortisol patterns, which can impact our normal circadian rhythm. This can result in us feeling tired when we are supposed to be awake and feel wired when we are supposed to be asleep, making it hard to fall asleep in the evenings and ever more impossible to get out of bed in the morning. Check out our previous blog, if you want all the details on how stress impacts our sleep and circadian rhythm.
The good thing is we can take steps to reset our circadian rhythm, so that you can reclaim your regular sleep schedule. The key is to re-align yourself with the natural rhythms of the sun, which will in turn help to regulate our cortisol and melatonin levels.
Try these tips to help you reset your circadian rhythm, therefore reset your sleep schedule.
Wake up and go to bed at a consistent time throughout the week. This helps to regulate our circadian rhythm and helps our body develop a routine of when to be awake and when to be sleep. If there are no consistent patterns, it is hard for our body to learn when it is meant to go to sleep and wake up. Did you know that sleeping in until 8am on the weekend when you regularly wake up at 6am throughout the week is equivalent to experiencing 2 hours of jet lag every weekend. By the time our body recovers, it’s thrown off again the following weekend.
Get exposure to sunlight as soon as you wake up. Getting exposed to sunlight, or other forms of blue light, as soon as you wake up signals to our brain that it is time to wake up by triggering the release cortisol to help kick start our day.
Eat a balanced breakfast within 1 hour of waking up. Similar to light, eating signals to our body that it is time to be awake, helping with the release of cortisol.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake throughout the day. When we are exhausted, it is natural for us to reach for an extra cup of coffee or two, but when you do this, you are only making things worse, by pumping your body full of caffeine that will impact your sleep that day as well. Try to limit your caffeinated beverages to before 2pm. Even if you don’t find caffeine affects your ability to fall asleep, it will disrupt the quality of sleep.
Be mindful of your napping. There is a lot of research behind how to nap properly, who would have thought catching some Z’s is a fine tuned science? To wake up feeling more refreshed and alert, your naps need to be under 20 minutes long or 90 minutes long. Anything in between will mean that you will be waking up in a deep sleep zone, making you feel groggier and more exhausted. By napping for less than 20 minutes, you don’t let your body get into a deep sleep, but you can recharge, while sleeping for 90 minutes allows you to complete a full sleep cycle, so you wake up in a light sleep.
Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed. Remember, eating signals to the brain that it is time to be awake, so eating late in the evening can cause your body to prevent the timely release of your sleepy hormone, melatonin.
Reduce the lights in your home after the sun goes down. Light informs your brain that it is time to be awake, so having all your lights in the evening can cause your body to prevent the timely release of your sleepy hormone, melatonin.
Avoid screens and stimulating activities like watching TV and checking work emails 2 hours before bed. In addition to the light exposure that happens when you use these devices, they can act in a way that stimulates our brains. This can lead racing thoughts, which make it more challenging to turn your mind off to go to bed.
Aim to be in bed before 10pm. After 10pm, our cortisol levels gradually start to increase. The later you stay up past 10pm, the harder it will be to fall asleep. Have you ever experienced the situation where you are exhausted, but when you try to fall asleep you seem to get a second wind and feel exhausted, yet wired at the same time. This is likely attributed to the raising cortisol hormones.
I get it, there are a lot of possible challenges to make, but take it slow and implement them one at a time. I know it is hard to prioritize our sleep when we have 193 other competing demands in the evening, but I promise once you get your sleep back on track and you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, you will realize it’s worth it.
Want to learn more?
Check out this blog on how stress affects your sleep.