Research shows that sleep affects almost every part of the human body, consequently having a great impact on mood, concentration and learning, metabolism, the immune system and more.
o, it can be said that good health is associated with quality sleep. But what is quality sleep and how maintaining a sleep schedule is associated with this quality sleep?
Maintaining a sleep schedule: Why is it important?
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps your body establish a regular circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural clock. This rhythm helps regulate hormones that influence your energy levels, mood, and concentration throughout the day. It also helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, which can help prevent fatigue and improve your overall physical and mental health.
What may disrupt sleep schedules?
- Irregular sleep patterns: There are many reasons why you may sleep early one night and light the next one and it is humane, but this can really affect your ability to fall asleep at the time you want.
- Work shifts: Maintaining sleep hygiene is harder for seafarers than for other professional groups, as the workload, the shifts and the 24/7 nature of shipping routes require crews to be alert outside “normal” working hours.
- Jet lag: This is an unavoidable external condition that happens when you travel from a place with one time zone to a place with a different time zone. Exposure (or non-exposure) to natural light is helpful in these situations, Dr. Michael Breus, Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert suggests.
- Stress: Anxiety is part of life and it may happen that you miss your sleep due to feeling stressed, sometimes without even realizing it.
- Caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a stimulant and can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, while alcohol can interfere with the normal sleep cycle and cause frequent awakenings throughout the night.
- Screen lights: The blue light emitted from screens can mimic daylight, which can make it harder for the body to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. The blue light can also make it harder to fall asleep, resulting in poorer quality sleep and disruption to a person’s circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleep cycle).
How much sleep do I need?
Sleep patterns are different per age group, with infants sleeping more than any other age group and old adults sleeping less. While sleep needs vary per person, it is generally normal for adults of 18-64 years old to sleep for 7-9 hours per day, according to Dr. Braus.
How can I fix my sleep schedule?
1. Establish a consistent bedtime and wake-up time: Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is the most important step in resetting your sleep schedule. The biggest trap here is the weekends when we tend to stay in bed longer. So, it is important to try to stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, including weekends.
2. Avoid naps: It has happened to all of us; you are feeling so tired during the day that you decide to take a nap in the afternoon. And this nap ends up being a 2-hour sleep or more. And then you go to bed at night and you end up staring at the dark ceiling for hours before you manage to fall asleep. Napping during the day can throw off your sleep schedule, so try your best to avoid napping when you can.
3. Get some sunlight: Exposure to light affects your internal clock, which in turn regulates when you feel tired or awake, according to Dr. Breus, also known as the sleep doctor. Getting some sunlight during the day, especially first thing in the morning, signals your body that it is time to be awake.
4. Limit caffeine intake: Caffeine stays in your body for hours after you consume it, so consuming caffeine late in the day can disrupt your sleep schedule. As such, it would be wise to try to avoid drinking coffee at least 8 hours before bedtime. Alcohol is also not a good idea as it may make you sleepy but in reality, it interferes with your stages of sleep and may impede a deep sleep, Dr. Breus says.
5. Pay attention to your bedroom environment: It is important for the brain to associate the bedroom with sleep, rather than other activities such as watching TV or working on the laptop. Also, the mattress, pillow, and room temperature should feel as comfortable as possible.
6. Exercise but mind when: Exercise is vastly beneficial and can lead to a quality night’s sleep after tiring your body, while also helping regulate your sleep/wake cycle. However, exercising too close to bedtime can make you more alert than needed, affecting your ability to fall asleep.
7. Avoid screens before bed: Scrolling on social media before going to bed is the most common mistake that we all do before closing our eyes. The blue light from screens can disrupt your sleep, so try to avoid screens for at least an hour before you plan to go to bed.