How a Consistent Sleep Schedule Benefits Your Health
Over the last decade, researchers have strengthened the link between sleep and heart health, specifically. Last summer, the American Heart Association added sleep duration to its checklist for measuring cardiovascular health. One theory for why consistent sleep helps your heart is that maintaining your circadian rhythm — the 24-hour cycle of your body’s internal clock — helps regulate cardiovascular function, Dr. Huang said. And a mounting body of research shows that catching up on your sleep during the weekends can’t compensate for staying up during the week, he added.
People often think that sleeping in after several nights of limited sleep or insomnia will make them feel better, said Dr. Marri Horvat, a sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, “but it usually doesn’t help,” she said. “Keeping a regular, set schedule is more likely to put your body in a place where it needs to be to get a full night’s sleep going forward.”
So how do you actually get yourself to bed and wake up on a schedule? We asked sleep doctors to share tips.
How to build a consistent sleep schedule
Set a wake-up goal that feels attainable (even if it’s challenging), Dr. Prather said — and then reward yourself for getting out of bed. That could mean heading to your favorite coffee shop or saving the show you’ve been looking forward to for Saturday morning instead of Friday night.
Pay attention to your pre-bedtime ritual.
A regular bedtime routine — reading a few pages of a novel after you brush your teeth, for example — can help lock in a set sleep schedule. But the hours before you wind down for bed matter too, Dr. Horvat said. In the four hours or so before you head to bed, avoid alcohol, she suggested, and don’t work out (you may want to switch your dedicated exercise time to the morning). These shifts will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Find an accountability partner.
Recruit a friend or a family member to get up around the same time you do, Dr. Prather recommended, and hold yourselves accountable by texting each other when you wake up. Even better: Make an early(ish) plan for brunch or a morning walk to give yourself added motivation for getting up.
Get some sun.
Light helps regulate our circadian rhythm, Dr. Abbott said, signaling to our bodies that it’s time to wake up. Take a walk first thing, if the weather allows, to expose yourself to sunlight around the same time each day, she recommended.
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