From something as complex as flying over multiple time zones, to simply adjusting to daylight savings time, we’ve all experienced a disruption in our internal alarm clock and found ourselves not able to sleep when
From something as complex as flying over multiple time zones, to simply adjusting to daylight savings time, we’ve all experienced a disruption in our internal alarm clock and found ourselves not able to sleep when we should be sleeping, or sleeping when we should be awake.
Like all living creatures on Earth, our bodies naturally tend to follow circadian rhythm. This means our senses pick up certain environmental cues that tell our brains when to release hormones to help us fall asleep, and then to release others to stimulate us into a wakeful state. This rhythm probably went quite smoothly for primitive man, who had no alarm clocks or electric lights to influence his body’s natural responses, nor was he capable of changing locations quickly enough to find that it’s morning when it should be night.
Today, however, there are times when our internal clock becomes accidentally reset to a schedule that doesn’t work for us once our location or routine returns to normal, or else we find ourselves in a situation where we have to purposely reset our internal alarm clock in order to accommodate a change in time zones, or adjust to new working and sleeping hours that our body is resisting.
Are there tricks to reset our internal alarm clock to make it work for us, rather than against us?
Understanding What Makes You Tick (Tock)
Before you can reset your internal clock, you first have to understand what makes it tick. Our internal clock—or circadian rhythm—is a built-in biological mechanism that controls our sleep/wake cycle. Ideally, this means that you begin to get sleepy when the sun goes down and wake up again when it rises.
As the sun goes down, changes in light quality, temperature, and sounds, cue our brain to produce melatonin which makes us sleepy. When the sun comes up again, our brains should be triggered to stimulate wakefulness. Unfortunately, as modern humans we have introduced technologies into our environment such as electric lights, screens, and temperature control that can change this natural cycle. While this can work against us at times, once we understand how these environmental cues work we can also use them to reset our internal alarm clock to function the way we need it to.
Below are five ways you can reset your own internal clock.
Utilize the Light
One of the best ways to reset your clock is by manipulating light in your environment. Blue light, such as fluorescent lights, bright light bulbs, and screens can actually prevent your brain from triggering melatonin release, meaning it can keep you awake longer into the night. On the other hand, yellow and red light does not inhibit melatonin production. (Meaning firelight didn’t keep our ancient ancestors awake the way our electric lights do.)
You can take advantage of this light reaction to change what time you begin to get sleepy. If you need to move your bedtime back to later hour, keep the lights bright, and continue to use screens with blue light such as television, phone, or computer. If you need to start going to sleep earlier in the day, you can pull the shades down, close the curtains and dim the lights. Fire or candlelight will still allow your brain to produce melatonin, so try turning off electric lights and using candlelight or use only dim yellow or red lighting to trick your brain into believing it’s later than it is.
You shouldn’t try to change your sleep cycle too quickly. Instead, try changing it by half an hour a day until you get to the sleeping and waking times that work for your schedule. Use lighting changes to move your bedtime back or forward by half an hour a night, and change the time on your alarm clock backward or forward by half an hour at a time. If you are in the habit of sleeping through the clock, or hitting snooze more than you should, try getting a new alarm clock. The unfamiliar sound of a great alarm clock—one that your brain hasn’t been programmed to ignore—can greatly aid in waking you up when you need to be awake.
Improve Your Sleep Environment
If you are having trouble falling asleep, consider improving your sleep environment. Be sure that you have a mattress that doesn’t cause pressure points or back pain to disturb your sleep. While a new mattress can be a big expenditure, when you consider that you spend one third of your life in bed, you realize the importance of a good mattress.
Keep your shades pulled down or use blackout curtains if you are trying to change your sleeping hours to sleep during the day or go to sleep before it’s dark outside.
Unless you live in a humid place, adding a great humidifier to your room can also improve your sleeping environment. Humidifiers can help clear congestion, prevent snoring, and help with sleep apnea. Studies show that sleeping with a humidifier in the room results in less sleep disruptions and better sleep.
Sleep environments can also be improved through noise control. Sleeping with earplugs can help to reduce external noises, and sound machines can help to stimulate melatonin production and produce better sleep.
Time Your Meals
Moving your biggest meal to earlier in the daytime can help you to fall asleep earlier in the evening. Studies have shown that larger meals closer to bedtime can disrupt sleep, as the body is busy digesting. This also means that you should skip the midnight snacks!
Studies have shown that camping in areas away from electricity and screens can reset a natural circadian rhythm, making this an ideal way for those who have been working night shifts and sleeping during the day, to reset their internal alarm clock to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Without artificial lights and distracting screens, campers tend to follow the natural cycle of 24-hour circadian rhythm that our ancient ancestors lived by; going to bed earlier and waking up at sunrise.