Having a normal sleep schedule—meaning you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day—can help your body clock sync up with when you need to feel awake and when you want to feel sleepy. But when new job hours force you to turn in and wake up a lot earlier or later than before, getting your sleep schedule to follow suit is challenging. These smart strategies can help.
Your body can’t handle a huge shift in your sleep routine—that’s why jet lag frequently accompanies a trip to another time zone. If you know you’ll be changing your wake-up hours, plan ahead and move your sleep schedule up or back in 15-minute increments in the several weeks leading up to the shift. For instance, if you used to wake up at 7:30 AM and your new job calls for a 6 AM wake-up, it will take six mornings of moving your alarm earlier to properly settle on your new wake-up time. It may feel tedious but small changes make the adjustment a lot easier.
Your body relies on light (or lack thereof) for signals that it’s time to be awake or time to go to bed. (Light affects your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleepiness.) To help adjust your sleep schedule, open your blinds or turn on the lights in your room as soon as you wake up and dim them as you prepare for bed. If your sleep schedule isn’t in sync with daytime and nighttime (say, if you’re a shift worker), use blackout curtains to make your bedroom as dark as possible and get a light on a dimmer so you can gradually brighten your room as you wake up, mimicking a sunrise.
When your sleep schedule is in flux, you might find yourself more tired than usual. While a short 20-minute nap in the early afternoon can give you a boost of energy, sleeping for much longer or too close to bedtime will confuse your body’s sleep rhythms even more than they already are. So if you’re tired but it’s close to dinner time, try to power through and head to bed early.