How to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

Three Parts:Determining the ScheduleAvoiding Food, Drink, and StimulantsCreating an Environment Conducive to Sleep

The sleep schedule is one of the most important rhythms in the human body. Our body needs anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sleep every day in order to repair itself and refresh itself for the next 24 hours. Unfortunately, events outside of our control may interfere with our sleep patterns and it may be necessary for us to change sleeping habits, whether temporarily or permanently. As long as you take the time to understand your sleeping habits and practice discipline, you can learn how to adjust your sleep schedule.

Part 1
Determining the Schedule

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    Determine your desired waking time. If you're changing your sleep schedule so you can wake up early enough for work, for example, you probably want to wake up an hour or so before departure.
    • Consider all the variables when making your decision. What do your mornings look like? How much time do you usually need to get up, get ready, and get out the door?
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    Calculate your optimal sleeping time. Most people require 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night, but the exact duration of necessary sleep differs from person to person. Determine at what time you need to fall asleep in order to wake up at your desired waking time.
    • One way of figuring this out is to keep a sleep log. Document the hours you sleep every night for a couple of weeks. Average them, then work backwards from there to determine what time you need to go to bed to get that average amount of sleep and get up at the time you desire. For example, if you usually sleep on average about 6 hours and you want to wake up at 5 A.M., you'll want to plan to fall asleep by 11 P.M.
    • Doctors recommend that you aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.[1]
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    Alter your sleep schedule gradually. If you normally wake up at 10 A.M. but want to start waking up at 5 A.M., this isn't going to happen overnight. Sleep specialists argue that the best way to change your sleep cycle is by making adjustments in 15-minute increments.[2]
    • For example, if you normally get up at 8am, but want to start getting up at 5am, set your alarm for and wake up at 7:45 A.M. Do this for three or four days until you feel comfortable with time. Then shave off another 15 minutes. Do this until you reach your goal time.[3]
    • If you're looking to change your sleep schedule sooner, try 30-minute increments.
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    Set your alarm to the time when you actually want to get up. Avoid hitting that snooze button. While it can be difficult to get up earlier, snoozing doesn't improve the situation and can in fact make you more tired since it doesn't give you the most restful sleep. Instead, get up when the alarm goes off. You can also put your alarm on the other side of the room. That way when you wake up you'll have to go to the other side of the room to shut off your alarm.[4]
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    Be consistent. The key to effectively altering your sleep schedule is to be consistent. In other words, you need to stick to the sleep and wake times you set every day of the week - this includes weekends!
    • You can sleep in a little bit on weekends, but sleep specialists only recommend allowing yourself an extra hour or so (to a maximum of two hours). This will keep you on track for the upcoming work week.[5]

Part 2
Avoiding Food, Drink, and Stimulants

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    Fast overnight. Eat a light dinner early on in the evening and then nothing. Harvard researchers have found that when you eat affects your internal clock; changing when you eat can be helpful in adjusting to changes in your schedule, whether due to work, life or travel.[6]
    • Fast for approximately 12 hours before your desired waking time. Then, wake up at the desired time and eat a healthy breakfast containing protein. Fasting helps reset your internal rhythm clock to begin your day when you break the fast. This in turn helps set your new waking pattern in place.[7]
    • Try to eat three regular meals spaced out evenly across the day. Make sure your diet is full of fruits, vegetables, and cereals. Avoid fatty foods, which can unsettle your stomach.[8]
    • Don't eat the largest meal of the day within the three-hour period before bedtime.[9]
    • Avoid all food and drinks during the fasting period. You can, however, have water.
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    Avoid stimulants after mid-day. Depending on the size of your body, the amount you ingest, and your general health, the effects of caffeine can remain active in your body for up to 5 to 10 hours after initial consumption. Avoid coffee and caffeinated teas and sodas.[10]
    • Nicotine should also be avoided because it is a stimulant and can keep you wired.
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    Avoid alcohol after dinner. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your body. While this will help you fall asleep, alcohol also slows down your metabolism and interferes with your brain during its sleep cycles. You're likely to wake up more often if you've consumed alcohol before bed.[11]
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    Avoid heavy exercise 1-2 hours before bed. Doctors advise that you avoid a heavy cardio workout a few hours before you plan to go to bed; this can unsettle your circadian rhythm and make your sleep less restful. That said, light stretching and exercising, such as an evening walk, are probably useful in getting you ready to go sleep.[12]
    • If you're someone who does intense exercises at night but sleeps well afterwards, then there is no reason to change your routine. Just know yourself.

Part 3
Creating an Environment Conducive to Sleep

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    Wait until bedtime to sleep. Naps are a great way to recharge your batteries when you have a stable sleep schedule, but they are counter-productive when trying to change sleeping patterns. Do not nap at all during the day so that you can fall asleep at the appropriate time later.[13]
    • If you must nap, consider taking a power nap of not longer than 20 minutes.
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    Stay away from screens and monitors. About an hour before bed, turn off all of your electronics and dim the lights of your phone and computer. Doctors note that our eyes are sensitive to the bluish light emitted by electronic screens.[14]Bright screens are not only hard on the eyes but also trick your body into thinking it's still daytime and that your mind should still be active.
    • Instead of looking at a screen, read a book, write, or draw. Do something relaxing that calms you or makes you feel restful. You might consider turning down the lights while you do this activity.
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    Set the temperature of the room and your body. Because the body drops in temperature when it falls asleep, you can trick your body into thinking it's time to sleep by simulating a temperature drop.
    • If it's cold outside, take a hot shower so that when you come out, your body experiences a temperature drop.
    • If it's hot outside, allow your room to heat up and then turn on the air conditioner.
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    Keep your room dark at night and light in the morning. Sleep specialists note that our circadian rhythms are influenced by light and darkness. This means that many people have a hard time falling asleep when it's still light out, which happens in the summer thanks to daylight savings.[15]
    • At night, shut your blinds and curtains. Turn off bright overhead lights. Consider getting a black out curtain which keeps any light from shining through. If it's still too bright or too much light is getting in, consider wearing a sleep mask.[16]
    • In the morning, turn on all the lights once you awake. This will help kick start your body for the day.[17]
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    Turn on white noise. You can listen to some light music or put a fan on for some background noise.[18]
    • Listen to the sounds of waves or rain; it will help calm your body and help you get a good night's sleep. Avoid music with lyrics or any songs you know really well because this might be too distracting for you as try to fall asleep.
    • You can also purchase white noise and other sound machines that have a variety of sounds for you to choose from.


  • If you've tried these suggestions and still can't fall asleep at the right time in order to get up when you want, you can try taking a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain makes at night and helps to bring on sleep.[19] Be sure to take a dose less or equal to 5mg (you can cut them in half for a 2.5mg dose; more is not necessarily better). Most people should fall asleep 15-30 minutes after taking it.[20]
  • If you are unable to readjust your sleep schedule, consult with your doctor. A sleep therapist can teach you better sleep habits and prescribe medication if necessary.[21]

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