For Better Sleep, Reset Your Body Clock

For Better Sleep, Reset Your Body Clock

A common reason we don’t feel properly rested each morning may be that we’re not paying enough attention to our natural sleep cycle. Sleep scientist Dr Dale Rae often advises patients with sleep challenges to start where it makes the most sense – listening to our own bodies. “We all have a body clock, or chronotype,” says Dr Rae, “which determines what time we prefer to go to sleep, when we wake up and, importantly, how long we typically need to sleep.”

What exactly is a chronotype?

Chronos means time. In sleep science, a sleep chronotype is when you naturally prefer to go to sleep and wake up. For example, some people prefer to sleep early and rise early, while others prefer sleeping later and getting up later. Dr Rae differentiates between the early morning lark and the late-night owl. Some people are neither types and lie somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

Natural sleep cycles can also shift slightly during the different seasons or change as we grow older. In addition, we all have varying energy and concentration levels during the day. Some of us work best in the mornings, others in the afternoons or late evening. Your chronotype influences your natural, daily cycle or rhythm which indicates when you will be at your most alert, when you will likely have a lull, or feel the need to sleep.

How do you know your sleep chronotype?

This is often a question asked by people who may be struggling to find a regular routine, as well as identifying their most productive time. “There may be various reasons for this,” says Dr Rae. “Parents with young children for example, people who do extended shifts or are on call, or anyone managing a life interruption, invariably prioritise important commitments ahead of themselves. This can impact their natural sleep cycle.”

The important thing is first to recognize whether there are ways we might incorporate our commitments and work around them. We need to re-establish a healthier, more regular, body clock.

How do you reset your body clock?

“It’s not always as simple as just resetting,” says Dr Rae. “For many it’s about finding the best way to compromise and adapt. The goal, however, is to accommodate the best sleep cycle and routine you can, for your chronotype.” It is preferable, but not always possible, to try and push through an exhaustion or tiredness barrier and stay awake as close as you can to your usual sleep time. That way you might resynchronise your normal body clock sooner than later.

What if you can’t find a regular sleep cycle?

“This is where the steady creep of sleep deprivation comes in,” Dr Rae notes. “You might have to approach the problem from a different perspective. What has to change in order to afford yourself more quality sleep time? How do you take back a little more control to make up your sleep deficit?” There can also be contributing factors such as re-assessing your diet. Are you eating healthily and at appropriate times? Is your exercise routine too intense for when it’s scheduled? Have you taken on just one too many commitments?

A body clock can’t be that important? In your dreams.

It is a physical reality that we need sleep to survive. Prolonged sleep deprivation can have serious physical and mental health consequences. Recognising your natural sleep chronotype and accommodating your sleep needs as regularly as possible is essential to your wellbeing. Whatever your daily challenges, make time for the clock that makes your body tick.

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