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How to Reset Your Sleep Cycle

If you suffer from chronic insomnia, it’s likely that you’ve been consulting with your doctor or a sleep specialist about how to get more restorative sleep. However, life can throw a wrench in even the best-laid sleep plans from time to time. It is possible that travel, a new baby, shift work, and other interruptions will prevent you from following your insomnia-busting routine.

Starting From Behind

Interruptions to sleep schedules can be difficult for anyone to deal with. However, if you suffer from chronic insomnia, you are already behind the times.

Behavioral sleep medicine psychologist Tracy Chisholm, PsyD, of the Portland VA Medical Center, explains that you don’t have the same amount of sleep reserves built up as you used to. “Because you were already struggling to function on less than a full tank of gas, you are likely to have an even more difficult time recovering from additional sleep disruptions.”

A negative feedback loop can be created if you spend too much time thinking about what you’re missing out on while sleeping. “In other words, you become more concerned about it,” Chisholm explains. “And guess what absolutely does not aid in the improvement of your sleep? Worry. This has the potential to become a vicious cycle.”

Preparing for Disruptions

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot control the situation, you can take practical steps to help prevent or cope with sleep loss. You could also try changing your frame of mind.

The neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Ina Djonlagic, MD, says that many people go into situations like travel assuming they will have sleep problems. “However, sometimes a change in environment can actually help you sleep better,” she says.

Bottom line: Don’t expect the worst, but develop good habits to be prepared in the event that something goes wrong.

The following are some suggestions for getting back on track when life gets in the way of your sleep schedule.

Travel and Time Changes

Traveling across time zones, sleeping in strange beds in strange rooms, and being in uncomfortable environments are just a few of the ways that travelling can prevent you from getting your ZZZs. Before you depart, consider the following suggestions:

Reduce the effects of jet lag. Prior to your departure, gradually adjust your sleep schedule at home.

“About a week or two before you depart, begin gradually shifting your bedtime and wake time to more closely match the time zone of your destination,” advises Chisholm. ”

According to Chisholm, if you’re travelling to a remote location, you should wait until you arrive before beginning to observe local meal and sleep schedules. When the night falls, go to bed and get up when the sun comes up.

Make use of temporary solutions. When travelling, some people find that taking low-dose melatonin or exposing themselves to light at specific times of day is beneficial. “It is critical for the effectiveness of these interventions that they are delivered at the appropriate time,” Chisholm says. “If you are interested in either of these approaches, you should consult with a sleep specialist.”

Being a parent to a newborn child. Babies are notorious for causing sleep disruption in everyone. Because your newborn’s sleep-wake cycle will not be the same as yours, you’ll be at the mercy of his or her schedule. Compared to adults, babies have significantly shorter sleep cycles — 50 to 60 minutes as opposed to our 90- to 110-minute cycles, according to Chisholm. Babies, like adults, require feedings every 2 to 3 hours.

The most important thing is to get as much sleep as you can when you can and trust that things will gradually improve. You could try the following:

Sleep when your child is sleeping.
Prepare for sleep by pumping between feedings and enlisting the help of a partner, friend, or family member to take over feeding responsibilities while you sleep.

Shift Work

It is acceptable to use the term “shift work” to describe evening, graveyard, or early morning shifts as well as fixed or rotating schedules. Rotating schedules, which change from one day to the next, are the most detrimental to sleep quality. The stress of switching between days and nights can be detrimental to your health.

“Unregulated schedules are so difficult to manage that my best advice is to see if you can work a different schedule that is more conducive to healthy sleep patterns,” says Djonlagic. If that is simply not possible, you can try the following:

  • Maintain the same bedtime, wake-up time, and mealtimes every day of the week, even on your days off, to ensure consistency. This assists you in keeping your internal clock aligned with your work schedule.
    Make sure you give yourself enough time to unwind after work before attempting to fall asleep. Make sure you don’t just come home and crash.
    If you sleep during the day, use ear plugs or white noise to help you fall asleep and stay asleep without being woken by your surroundings. You can also use blackout curtains and an eye mask to block out the light.
    Keep one step ahead of your brain. “If your commute home occurs during the early hours of the morning, consider wearing blue light-blocking glasses to prevent your brain from believing that you are about to begin a new day,” suggests Chisholm.

Stress

Stress activates your fight-or-flight response, which is not conducive to restful sleep. In fact, it has the opposite effect of promoting sleep.

From your body’s point of view, it’s as if you’re trying to sleep in the presence of a saber-toothed tiger that’s lurking outside your cave, says Chisholm. She recommends the following suggestions:

  • Create a sleep routine that you can follow every night to help you relax. Make sure the final steps of this routine include a relaxing activity that you enjoy doing that is not overly stimulating. In addition to reading, listening to audiobooks or calming music, or practising relaxation techniques, Chisholm recommends to those suffering from insomnia to do so.
    Before going to bed, avoid watching the news or engaging in heated debates about difficult subjects. You can prevent your mind and body from feeling relaxed by engaging in those activities.
    Exercise on a regular basis, but make sure you finish at least a few hours before going to bed each night.
    In order to help your brain “let it go” for the rest of the night, write down everything that is on your mind at least an hour before you go to bed to help you relax. Remember that you can always refer back to your notes the next day.
    Consider enlisting the assistance of family, friends, or professionals to assist you in stress management.

As Chisholm points out, “the most important thing to remember is that if you already have chronic insomnia, don’t put off seeking treatment — especially if you anticipate even more sleep disruptions.” « Treating chronic insomnia first can make it easier to deal with the effects of these common sleep disruptors in the future. »

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