Sleep is important for health and well-being, but it can also be elusive.
Work and social lives can play havoc on people's sleep schedules, and it is important to be able to adjust in order to maintain an acceptable amount of rest for the mind and body.
Shifting Your Sleep ScheduleIn an email to The Epoch Times, the Director of the Centre for Sleep Science at the University of Western Australia, Jennifer Walsh, PhD, said that light is the best way to reset the sleep schedule.
"If you are trying to shift your sleep time to later in the evening, you should expose yourself to bright light in the evening hours," Walsh said.
"If you are trying to shift your sleep time to earlier in the evening, you should set your alarm to wake closer to the desired wake time and expose yourself to bright light for at least 30 mins, ideally longer.
"If planning to shift the sleep schedule more than a few hours, either way, it is best to consult with a sleep professional to ensure that you will not cause significant disruption to the circadian rhythm."
"You'd want to make sure that you're not exposing yourself to a lot of lighting, particularly when it's dark outside and then trying to have a sleep schedule that's fairly consistent across all days of the week," she said.
"And over time, if you sort of stick to your sleep schedule and you stick to reducing your light exposure at night and maximizing your light exposure in the morning, we'll sort of adapt to a specific schedule. Most people will anyway."
Furthermore, Walsh said that light therapy with portable glasses is an emerging therapy that is good for resetting sleep schedules. She also said that morning exercise could be beneficial when shifting sleep time to earlier in the evening.
Sleeping Medication: Not Always a Good IdeaBoth sleep experts said that while medication such as melatonin is able to help reset a sleep schedule, it should only be taken under the guidance of a sleep professional.
Paech said that melatonin is sometimes called the sleeping hormone and that it essentially signals to the brain when it is tired. She said that a lot of the medications that are used for sleep are either melatonin and sedating medications or sleeping tablets to help individuals sleep at night.
"Both of these things are really sort of more short-term temporary uses, particularly sleeping tablets. They're really being shown to not be effective in the long term," Paech said.
Habits that Impact SleepWalsh said that sleep can be negatively impacted by habits such as not exercising regularly, not experiencing regular light exposure throughout the day, and consuming too much caffeine, alcohol or nicotine or having it late in the day.
Sleep can also be impacted by not adhering to a consistent sleep schedule and pre-sleep routine, for example, showering, brushing teeth, and reading just before sleep.
"This can sort of create a phenomenon that we call social jetlag where, come Sunday night, they struggle to fall asleep early, and so then they have a short sleep on Sunday night and then it kind of rolls over into the rest of the week."
"And then they get to the weekend, and they sleep in really late on Saturday and Sundays."
Paech said that it is really important for people to try and maintain a regular sleep routine throughout the whole week. She said that if people feel the need to supplement their sleep a little bit during the weekends, they should do this through a short daytime nap, rather than sleeping in.
Walsh said that sleep can also be scared away by doing things that provoke stress — such as working or reading stressful stories— before trying to sleep. Paech said that having large meals can also impact sleep.
However, she said that sometimes there is other things that people cannot necessarily control.
Natural Sleep PreferenceWalsh said that there is no evidence that sleeping against natural preference is detrimental to health.
However, she said that, in theory, it's likely that people whose natural sleep preference aligns with when they are able to sleep, according to their daily schedule, are more likely to have less negative health outcomes.
Meanwhile, a person that sleeps outside of their natural preference, for example, someone that forces themselves to turn in at 9 p.m. to be up early for work, despite preferring a later bedtime around midnight, is more likely to have poor health outcomes.
"It is considered best to sleep and wake at consistent times each day, allowing adequate time for sleep," she said.
"Some people are more naturally drawn to sleeping at earlier times, others prefer to sleep at later times, and some people are in the middle."
Paech said that there isn't really a golden rule for everyone that fits. She said that a lot of the time, a person's sleep schedule is dependent on their work schedule.
Paech said that for some people who feel like their work schedule is really out of whack relative to their preferred sleep times, it might be worthwhile to have a discussion with their employer about flexible working hours. This would allow them to work at a time that better suited their natural sleep preferences.
When to Visit Your DoctorPaech said that if for a couple of months people have been experiencing several nights of poor sleep within a week, they should really visit their GP for some advice.
Paech said that insomnia is associated with increased mental health problems as well as daytime sleepiness, which puts people at a higher risk of having an accident or something like that. She said that another sleep disorder, sleep apnea, which is where people might temporarily stop breathing, can be associated with a lot of cardiovascular disorders and a higher risk of developing diabetes and obesity.
"They can sort of lead to other health conditions, and we know that by treating the sleep disorder, it can actually improve some of the other health outcomes," Paech said.
She said that there had been many examples of this, such as the mental health problems of people which have insomnia and poor mental health, improving when their insomnia is treated.
"Lots of people turn to things online and Google Search sorts of information, but a lot of the time, that information isn't always the best, and it's not coming from people who are sleep specialists," said Paech.
"People really need to be cautious about these; these real quick fixes to solve your sleep problems are usually not very effective."