When ‘Rise and Shine’ Is Easier Said Than Done
Lots of people set the alarm with the best of intentions, knowing that’s the time they need to get up to meet the day’s demands. But then the alarm clock seems to ring way before they’re ready to rise, so they’re hitting snooze and, eventually, running late. Something’s got to give.
The key lies inside your body. “An important factor in being able to wake up easily at the desired time in the morning is the timing of one’s circadian rhythm, or ‘body clock,'” says sleep researcher Leon C. Lack, PhD, professor emeritus in the school of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Much of what you need to do to wake up on time starts by planning your sleep schedule the day and the evening before — and by making your mornings count.
How do our internal clocks work, and how much can we control them? According to the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the body’s master clock, located in the brain, produces and regulates our circadian rhythms, which help determine sleep patterns over the course of a 24 hour period. Environmental signals, such as daylight and darkness, affect circadian rhythms, too. When incoming light hits the optic nerves, information is passed along from the eyes to the brain. When there is little or no light — at night — your clock tells the brain to make more melatonin, a hormone which makes you sleepy.
Our sleep-wake cycles, hormone levels, metabolism, and body temperature are all affected by our circadian rhythms, notes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. When your rhythm is off, you may be at risk for more than just a few groggy days you drag yourself through. Irregular rhythms, the NIGMS notes, have been linked to chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
But there are ways to recalibrate your system to get the sleep you need and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Physiological and psychological factors come into play, and it’s not always easy to get a good night’s rest or adhere to a schedule so that you consistently go to sleep and get up around the same time each day.
If you’re not a morning person, and you find yourself struggling at the start of your day, try these tips and strategies to get going.
Know Why You Want to Improve Your Wake-Up Routine
Michelle Segar, PhD, a healthy-living expert and motivation scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that to make any change in your life stick, including waking up on time, you need to clearly define why it’s important to you.
What’s your motivation? Do you want to get up in time to have breakfast with your family, get in some exercise, or just have a few moments of reflection to be better prepared for your day? Maybe you’re just tired of the stress of running late every morning.
Once you crystallize your reasons, take a second step and tell your family or roommates about the change you want to make. Accountability helps as much as an alarm clock.
Streamline Your Mornings to Gain Time
Now that you’re clear about what you want to do when you wake up and what it takes to get more sleep, consider trimming down your morning activities. This could let you set the alarm clock for a few minutes (or more) later.
If you’ve decided you want time to have breakfast with your family, save some time the night before by setting out clothes, shoes, and bags. Are you spending 15 minutes in line at the café to get coffee? That’s a quarter-hour more you could be sleeping by buying a coffee maker with a timer — another wake-me-up device that will also brew your favorite hot drink on your schedule.
Get to Know Your Internal Body Clock Better
If you’ve been riding the sleep deprivation roller coaster for a while, you might not even know how much sleep your body naturally would want if you weren’t staying up late and slapping around the alarm clock in the morning.
Dr. Lack explains that, in general, your body makes changes in anticipation of your going to sleep, such as dropping in temperature and heart rate and secreting melatonin into your bloodstream one to two hours before your regular bedtime. This get-some-sleep cycle peaks at about 3 or 4 a.m., and then your body starts a gradual morning waking-up process.
One way to figure out what might work best for you is to set a consistent bedtime that starts about eight hours before your alarm is going to go off. Stick to that for several weeks (including weekends) to get a feeling for how well your body responds. Lack notes that some people are naturally night owls and will still find it hard to go to bed early (at least what’s early for them), even if they have to wake up early as well.
Try a Melatonin Supplement to Get Back on Track
Your body naturally makes melatonin to stimulate your sleep, but you can also take a melatonin supplement to help reorient your body clock. Try the lowest possible dose to start — 0.5 to 5 milligrams is common — five to six hours before bedtime for a few days. Lack says that, “after several nights, this should result in an earlier timed body clock, earlier sleep onset, and earlier, easier awakening in the morning.”
Melatonin doesn’t work well for all of sleep disorders, and can even result in drowsiness the next day for some people. It’s always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before taking supplements because of possible side effects and interactions with other medication you may be taking. People with autoimmune disorders or diabetes, and those taking birth control pills, blood thinners, sedatives, or some kinds of blood pressure medication, should not take melatonin without first discussing it with a healthcare professional.
Power Down Your Devices and Turn Off the TV Before Bedtime
Part of getting up on time is getting enough sleep the night before. And getting ready for bed is a process of winding down. Segar warns that spending time in front of screens — whether TV, laptop, or phone — right up until bedtime doesn’t lead to restful sleep. Use the alarm clock in your favorite gadget to set a reminder to turn everything off at least an hour before you turn in — no excuses.
Get Bright Light First Thing in the Morning
Sitting in front of the bright lights of your flat-screen TV before bedtime can make it hard to go to sleep, but bright light for an hour or two once you wake up can help set your body clock to accept your wake-up time. “This can be from sunlight, especially in summer, or artificial bright light if it’s cold, dark, and rainy outside,” says Lack, who is part of a research and development team that has developed bright light devices for this purpose. If your schedule allows it, a walk in the morning sun or a restful breakfast on the patio would be good for both your mood and better sleep.
Reorganize to Lighten Your Evening Schedule
To figure out what’s interfering with your sleep and therefore your waking up, look at your day and how you spend your evenings. You might have to reorganize some of your activities. For example, even if the only time you can get to the gym is after dinner, this time slot can result in poor sleep. Segar suggests finding another time to work out earlier in the day.
According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, about 12 percent of adults believe their work schedule makes it impossible to get enough sleep. If you’re overburdened on the job and constantly work late into the evening, try to find ways to share the load with a partner or colleague.
Get an Evaluation to See What’s Affecting Your Sleep
Sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, or health issues, such as allergies or depression, could be leaving you with poor quality sleep. No matter how hard you try to get to bed on time and wake up on time, you’ll still be tired in the morning and sleepy during the day.
For sleep apnea, your sleep partner may note snoring or gasping for air, or you may have a morning headache. Talk to your doctor about testing to find out if you have an underlying condition that’s making sleep difficult.
Make Hitting ‘Snooze’ More of a Challenge
Now that you’ve identified the obstacles to going to sleep on time, it’s time to create some obstacles to staying in bed. If your alarm is right next to your bed and the big “snooze” button is easy to reach without raising your head off the pillow, you’re probably going to try to sleep in longer. Put your alarm clock at the other end of your bedroom so that you’re forced to get up to turn it off.
Also consider setting a second alarm — far away — if you’re having a lot of difficulty getting up. When you’re trying to reset your sleep and wake times, you might also ask family members or roommates to help you get up until you’re in sync.
Stick to Your Sleep and Wake Schedule on Weekends
If you’re running on empty by the time Friday night rolls around, sleeping in on Saturday could sound like heaven. But compensating on the weekends actually feeds into your sleepiness the following week because it interrupts your natural body clock, which doesn’t have a weekend setting.
Whatever your set bedtime and wake time are for the weekday, you’ll have to stick to them on the weekends, too. According to research published in the journal Chronobiology International, a consistent bedtime on the weekends seems to lead to better sleep and easier waking during the week. Plus, you get to spend that weekend morning time any way you’d like.
Orginally found on everydayhealth.com