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You’ve heard of life hacks, but did you know you can also hack your sleep? To learn how to hack your sleep for productive days (and for deep sleep), the first thing you need to do is to consider circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms, according to The Sleep Foundation, “are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes.”
There are multiple circadian rhythms constantly working in the body—digestion and ovulation, to name a few and are coordinated by a “master clock” in your body maintained by the brain. The circadian rhythm that most are familiar with, and the easiest one to hack, is the sleep-wake cycle. When your sleep-wake cycle is healthy and consistent, that particular circadian rhythm is aligned. However, it can easily get disrupted, leading to insomnia, poor sleep quality, frequent nighttime waking, sleep apnea, and a myriad of health problems.
Your natural sleep-wake cycle might not be conducive to your current lifestyle or schedule. Or maybe you want to wake up earlier to be more productive throughout the day. If this is the case, you’ll need to adjust to your new schedule or routine. The tips below will help you not only hack your circadian rhythm but will increase time in deep sleep and help you wake up rested and ready to take on the day!
For more tips, skip to the infographic below.
Ever noticed catching up on your latest show or scrolling through your social feeds before bed leaves you wide awake? There’s a reason for that — numerous studies have shown short-wavelength blue light emitted from electronics damages both sleep quality and sleep duration. This is because blue light suppresses melatonin.
It’s almost impossible to avoid screens. If that’s the case, you can try blue light blocking glasses. However, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is limited evidence that blue light glasses work.
Actionable Tip: Shut off your computer, TV, and stop looking at your phone an hour before bed.
Morning sunshine is one of the best ways to help regulate your circadian rhythm. Researchers have found that exposure to sunlight in the morning increases alertness due to human’s natural day/night sleep cycle. “Getting some sun” is also proven to increase vitamin D levels and decrease risk of disease.
Actionable Tip: For optimal benefits, expose yourself to sunlight within an hour of waking up.
Many of us plan our days around our meals. Like our sleep schedule, our bodies also adapt to a meal schedule—which is why you’re hungry every day at your designated lunch break. Planning meals is proven to help regulate your body’s clock and associate food with different times of the day. Over time, your body will regulate both your meal times and sleep times.
Actionable Tip: Try eating at the same time every day as you adjust your sleep schedule. If you’re traveling or switching over to shift work, try fasting to reset your circadian rhythm and sleep schedule. Avoid eating meals 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
Along with sleep and healthy eating, exercise is the key to optimal health. Regular exercise is proven to improve sleep quality and help regulate a healthy circadian rhythm. Even though exercise is vital to good sleep, when you exercise is what impacts your sleep. Exercising too close to bedtime can end up leaving you tossing and turning, thanks to an increased heart rate and adrenaline. It’s recommended to avoid exercise 2 hours before bedtime.
Actionable Tip: Try exercising at different times of the day to see how it impacts your sleep—positive or negative.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body to regulate sleep/wake cycles. When your circadian rhythm is out of whack or you’re having trouble sleeping in general, a melatonin supplement can help you get to sleep and get your sleep cycle back on track.
Actionable Tip: Take melatonin anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime to give the supplement time to work. Try different doses to see which one works best for you. For adults, the average dose of melatonin is 5mg or 10mg.
The best thing you can do to help regulate your sleep schedule and improve your sleep quality is to keep a consistent bedtime by going to bed and waking up at the same time daily—including weekends and days off. Over time, this will lead to you getting your required amount of sleep and waking up without an alarm. Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle will improve sleep and balance circadian rhythm.
Actionable Tip: Choose a wake-up time you can stick to each day, including weekends and holidays. Select a time during the week that will allow you to go to work/school.
Along with mood disorders, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and numerous other potentially deadly health problems, stress is proven to disrupt circadian rhythms and sleep. Limiting stress can be difficult, if not impossible. Identifying your stress triggers can help you cope and manage your stress levels.
Actionable Tip: Try mediation at bedtime to relax.
CBD, derived from the cannabis plant, is growing in popularity among those who have trouble sleeping. According to a 2017 study, CBD may help regulate circadian rhythms by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, your body’s system of nerve receptors that help control hunger, mood, and sleep. Using CBD before bed can help you relax and fall asleep, which will regulate your circadian rhythm.
Actionable Tip: CBD is available in edibles, vapes, capsules, or tinctures. Make sure to purchase CBD from a reliable retailer and ensure that it is third-party tested.
Maintaining the same sleep schedule as your partner can be impossible if you are on different work schedules. A 2017 study found if you and your partner are not on the same sleep schedule, it can disrupt sleep for both of you and negatively affect health. For example, if your partner is a night owl and you’re an early bird, you both might find yourselves trying to adjust to their schedules instead of staying the one that is the most natural for you.
Actionable Tip: Schedule certain times on the weekend or days off to spend time with your partner. This way, you can spend time together without disrupting sleep schedules. Make sure you both understand the other has their own schedule and set of sleep needs.
Waking up early is hard enough, but it’s even more of a struggle to leave your warm, cozy bed when it’s still dark at your wake up time. A light alarm, sometimes called a sunrise alarm, can make waking up in the dark a little more manageable. Since exposure to light helps us wake up and regulate circadian rhythms, light alarms are a great way to wake up and get your sleep back on track. By simulating natural sunlight, light alarms increase the light intensity until you are awake.
Actionable Tip: If you have to wake up early, try a light alarm to see if it helps your sleep/wake cycle. Don’t have to get up in the dark? Leave your curtains and blinds open and let the sunlight naturally wake you up.
Grabbing a light snack before bed is one thing, but chowing down on a large meal before bed can lead to poor sleep, heartburn, indigestion, and obesity. Eating large meals at night is directly related to circadian rhythm disruption. While certain foods can help you sleep, it’s best to eat dinner within 3 hours of bedtime.
Actionable Tip: If you suffer from heartburn and indigestion at night, try eating earlier in the evening and monitor your symptoms to watch for improvement. Additionally, for those with diabetes and blood sugar problems, a two-hour break between dinner and sleep can help lower blood sugar and HbA1c levels.
Along with being one of the essential electrolytes, potassium is vital in helping you sleep, which will regulate your circadian rhythm. Studies have shown the release of potassium is vital for regulating circadian rhythms as well as decreasing nighttime wakings.
Actionable Tip: Increase potassium intake by eating more leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Record your intake of these foods, track your sleep, and compare your sleep quality to see if the increased potassium intake has helped with sleep.
According to a survey, 3% of the adult population in the United States suffers from a circadian rhythm disorder. Circadian rhythm disorders involve either insomnia, waking up at night, and trouble going back to sleep. Common circadian rhythm disorders include Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder, Shift Work Disorder, Irregular sleep-wake rhythm, and Non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome.
Checking for these disorders will help you regulate your circadian rhythm and improve your overall health.
Actionable Tip: If you think you might have a circadian rhythm disorder, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Treatment options for circadian rhythm disorders include light therapy, medications to help you fall asleep or remain awake, or healthy lifestyle changes.
Identifying your sleep chronotype can help identify your sleeping patterns and the best time or day (or night) to sleep. Michael Breus, a Los Angeles-based sleep expert and author of The Power of When, divides people into four chronotypes depending on when they sleep, get up, and are most productive.
Learning your chronotype will allow you to better understand your internal clock and allow you to adjust your time to best suit you.
Actionable Tip: Take this quiz to find your sleep chronotype. Once you find your results, try to adjust your sleep/wake times to match the result.
You’ll only have to do this until you’re adjusted to your new sleep schedule. Once you know what time you want or need to wake up, start adjusting your alarm to accommodate this new schedule. By waking up earlier each day, your body will adjust to an earlier bedtime, making it easier to wake up early.
Actionable Tip: If you have to wake up at 8:00 a.m., set your first alarm for 6:30 a.m, then 6:45, until you wake at your set time.
Hacking your circadian rhythm does take some work on your part and it might take some time to see the results you're looking for, but the positive outcome of better health, improved sleep, and increased productivity will be worth it. By adjusting your schedule to best fit your lifestyle, you’ll be able to live your best and most productive life.