No doubt you've heard about the importance of proper sleep to the point of redundancy. Weight gain, performance loss and irritability are among the many effects we worry about when we don't get enough rest. But we sometimes lack practical strategies for getting a better night's sleep.
Below are three effective strategies to reset your sleep cycle to fit your schedule and get a higher quality night's rest.
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This is the simplest and most effective way to reset your sleep cycle. If you need to stay up longer, simply commit to staying awake at night. And if you need to wake up earlier, set your alarm for a few days and don't take naps. The adaptation is similar to what you experience when changing time zones. At first it's difficult because of the initial sleep loss, but it gets easier over time.
Phase-Oriented Exercise Timing
To push your sleep back at night and ultimately wake up later in the morning, try exercising in the evening. Late workouts delay the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. If you normally go to bed at 11 p.m., exercising at 8 or 9 p.m. may delay your normal sleep cycle to midnight or later. Your circadian rhythm gradually changes, and your habitual sleep cycle adjusts to the new pattern.
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Bright Light Exposure (BLE)
If the first two fail, BLE may be your best option. Many athletes who travel across multiple time zones use BLE to counter jet lag and optimize their cognitive function. But you can't just use a bright light bulb you get at the store. You need to get four hours of exposure to very bright light (3,000-12,000 lux) to impact sleep-wake cycles.
A recent study also linked BLE to enhancing flow—a positive emotional state and indicator of cognitive performance. Flow also impacts reaction time, which might improve your ability to get in that all-important "zone"—especially important for golfers and tennis players.
To advance your sleep cycle by 1.5 hours in an evening, use BLE immediately after you wake. To delay your sleep time by 2.5 hours, use BLE immediately before your habitual sleep time.
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Barger LK, Wright KP Jr, Hughes RJ, & Czeisler CA. (2004). "Daily exercise facilitates phase delays of circadian melatonin rhythm in very dim light." Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 286(6):R1077-84. Epub 2004 Mar 18.
Cheung, S. S. (2010). Advanced Environmental Exercise Physiology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Kaida K, Takeda Y, & Tsuzuki K. (2012). "The relationship between flow, sleepiness and cognitive performance: the effects of short afternoon nap and bright light exposure." Ind Health, 50(3):189-96. Epub 2012 Mar 28.
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