Getting a full night of quality sleep is crucial to our physical and mental health, but it's all too easy to develop unhealthy sleep patterns that are difficult to break. If you're staying up into the wee hours of the morning, then making up for lost time by sleeping in or napping during the day, getting back on a healthy sleep schedule can seem like a daunting task — especially if you're a night owl by nature. But the sooner you break the cycle, the better.
Charles Anderson, MD, a board-certified sleep doctor in Washington state, told POPSUGAR that the key is to establish a consistent routine and stick to it. "You should start by trying to keep the same bedtime schedule every day, and allow for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep," Dr. Anderson said. In order to shift to a normal sleep schedule, he suggested gradually getting up a little earlier and going to sleep a little earlier every day. "You can work the schedule back by 30 minutes, or more or less, depending on your timeline," he explained.
What If You're Struggling to Fall Asleep?
Going to bed earlier isn't always enough to get back on track. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself tossing and turning for hours. Alex Dimitriu, MD, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, noted that you generally have more control over when you wake up than when you fall asleep. "I advise most of my patients to set up a fixed morning wake-up time, regardless of when they fell asleep," Dr. Dimitriu told POPSUGAR.
Of course, committing to getting up at the same time every morning can be difficult if you're having trouble falling asleep at night, so you may need to power through a period of feeling tired. Once you're up, try getting some light exercise — or at least some natural light — to help jumpstart your day, and know that this will pass. "After several days of feeling tired, people will naturally feel sleepier at an earlier time in the night," Dr. Dimitriu said.
If you've fallen into the habit of napping during the day, Dr. Anderson recommended keeping your naps to 20 minutes or less in order to avoid sleep inertia. "[Sleep inertia] means if you sleep longer, your brain switches gears and wants to stay asleep, making you feel groggy or lethargic," he explained. "It's the idea that the longer you sleep, the more your body naturally wants to stay asleep." And you want to save those restful hours for nighttime.
While you want to avoid feeling groggy during the day, it's equally important to establish a healthy routine to help you wind down in the evening and prepare for sleep. "Start your routine about an hour before you go to bed," Dr. Anderson said. Power down your devices and switch off the TV, and instead focus on calming activities like reading and meditation.