Headed back to work? Here’s the easiest way to reset your sleep schedule

Changes in our body and environmental factors can cause our circadian rhythms to fall out of sync.

Changes in our body and environmental factors can cause our circadian rhythms to fall out of sync. Photo: Getty

Preparing for the first day back at work can often mean sorting out your sleep schedule. 

Maybe you stayed up too late watching the latest hit TV show, or maybe you just enjoyed sleeping in until 11am – whatever your reason, going to bed at 10pm might sound a little early now. 

So The New Daily asked Amy Jordan, professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne and director of the John Trinder Sleep Laboratory, to give us some advice on how to reset our body clocks. 

Understanding the circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythms are the body’s internal rhythms that help us feel awake during the day and sleepy at night.

They control many things in the body, such as when you are hungry, and keep our bodies on track.

Even if you locked yourself in a room with no indicators of the time of day, your internal body clock would continue to tick. It keeps your body running on a 24-hour cycle.

Changes in our body and environmental factors can cause our circadian rhythms to fall out of sync. Maybe it’s because of jet lag or staying up late on your Christmas break. 

According to Professor Jordan, light has by far the biggest effect on your circadian rhythm. It can help you reset your body clock.

Melatonin, otherwise known as the sleep hormone, is released by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps control your body’s night and day cycles. 

In darkness, the pineal gland produces melatonin. In light, production is slowed, preparing your body to wake up. 

System reset

Professor Jordan said the rule of thumb is to shift your circadian rhythm by an hour a day.

So in the days leading up to your return to work, set your alarm earlier and earlier until you’re waking up within 30 minutes or an hour of when you usually wake up for work. 

If you’re only staying up for one or two hours later than your usual bedtime, try setting your alarm during the last weekend of your holidays. 

If you’re staying up later than that, it may take longer to reset your body clock.

“It doesn’t take much common sense to realise that if you sleep in until 10am on the last Sunday of your holiday and then try and go to sleep at 10pm, you’re not going to be able to sleep because you haven’t been awake long enough,” Professor Jordan explained.

“So it’s about gradually shifting the circadian rhythm back to where it needs to be. The easiest way to do that is to set your alarm about an hour back a day.”

When you do wake up, engage in exercise to kickstart the brain.

Or, if you would rather not, Professor Jordan recommends sitting outside in the sunlight.

“Bright lights are really effective in resetting the circadian rhythm,” she said.

On your first day back, you’ll likely feel tired throughout the day because you’ve had less sleep, but that will help you fall asleep at night as you continue to reset your body clock.

Beware of the traps

The biggest trap you can fall into as you try and reset your body clock is that sweet, sweet snooze button.

We’re all guilty of it.

If you’re nodding your head, you might want to put your phone or alarm clock on the other side of the room.

Or, if you’re struggling to fall asleep and feel tempted by your phone, maybe leave it in another room for the night.

Caffeine in the afternoon and evening can obviously make it difficult to fall asleep, too, as can exercising right before bed.

Up in the middle of the night

Professor Jordan said it’s important to have good strategies to help you get back to sleep as quickly as possible if you’re prone to waking in the night.

If you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes, it’s a good idea to get out of bed and go to another room that is just as comfortable and quiet as your bedroom.

Keep the lighting as low as you can, too.

“Doing something a bit boring and preferably not screen-based is good,” she said.

Something boring and monotonous, like folding laundry, means you’re not stimulating yourself further, compared to whatever you’re scrolling through or getting excited over on your phone or tablet.

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