It’s 3 am and you’re wide awake. Your sleep cycle has fallen so far out of sync due to travel, illness or work that going to bed early seems impossible. What should you do to return to a normal sleep cycle that helps you feel energetic and motivated?
Breaking out of a bad sleep pattern can seem almost impossible, but it’s surprisingly easy once you understand the science of sleep. In this chapter, you’ll learn a simple strategy to reset your bedtime and sleep cycle for shift work or travel.
Making small changes to your bedtime is simple, but switching from going to sleep at 3 am to sleeping before midnight can be a challenge. Since your body isn’t tired at the time you want it to be, you could spend several hours in bed trying to sleep, only to fall asleep at your usual bedtime.
The easiest way to change your bedtime by several hours is to spread the change in timing over several days. Instead of trying to fall asleep three hours earlier one day, go to bed one hour earlier for three days to make the change more gradual and less of a challenge for your body.
This is also a great way to adjust to a new time zone before you travel. If your new destination is five hours ahead of you – for example, a flight from New York City to London – make gradual changes over the five days before you travel to fall asleep easily once you arrive.
Remember the sleep optimisation tips you learned earlier? Each of them can be used to make you feel tired when you aren’t, making it easy to shift your bedtime forward and fall asleep earlier.
Switch off your computer an hour before you want to sleep, dim (or switch off) most of your interior lighting and even try soaking in a warm bath. All of these tactics can help you increase melatonin production and fall asleep even if you aren’t tired.
If your sleep cycle is seriously out of sync with your lifestyle, it might be a good idea to use a melatonin supplement to ‘reset’ it and return to a normal routine. Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced by your body to make you feel drowsy. It’s available as a health supplement to make resetting your sleep patterns easier.
Although melatonin is available over the counter in the United States, you’ll need to have a doctor’s prescription to buy melatonin in the UK. Melatonin comes in pills of one to three milligrams – start with the lowest dose to slightly increase your level of drowsiness and make falling asleep easier.
While melatonin isn’t addictive, it’s best not to use it for more than a couple of days in order to reset your sleep. Use the sleep strategies above to increase your body’s natural melatonin production first, then use a melatonin supplement to reset your sleep cycle if you still struggle to fall asleep easily.