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6 Tips for Reprogramming your Sleep Habits

By Edited Jun 12, 2015 0 0

“Waking up early is too hard.”

Sound familiar? No one likes waking up early, right?


In reality, there are plenty of people who swear by waking up at the crack of dawn. Haven’t noticed them? Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep.

Millions of Americans drag themselves out of bed every morning, guzzle coffee or tea to get moving, stumble bleary-eyed through the day while fantasizing about taking a nap, plop themselves in front of a computer until late into the night, and repeat. Living this way for an extended period of time can have terrible effects on your well-being, leading to lethargy, illness, and emotional distress. This zombie-like existence may not feel like a choice, but there are steps we can take to ensure that our bodies receive the amount of rest they need each day for peak performance. Correcting a broken sleep routine that has become deeply ingrained into our daily life is difficult, but with patience and persistence you can reprogram your brain to establish stronger sleep habits and accomplish more throughout the day. For many people, this starts by learning to love waking up early in the morning.

Credit: Alyssa L. Miller / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Tip #1: Stick to a Schedule

The human body is a creature of habit, and sticking to a strict sleep schedule will help train your body when to rest and when to be active. Before making any changes to your sleep habits, take a look at the amount of sleep you are getting each evening versus the amount of sleep you need. The amount of sleep an individual needs to function at full capacity varies widely from person to person, but in general most healthy adults need approximately 7 - 9 hrs of sleep per night[1]. Knowing exactly how much sleep you want to get each evening will make setting up a sleep schedule much easier.

Establishing a sleep routine means setting fixed times for both waking up and going to seep. If you’re the kind of person who never falls asleep at the same time two days in a row, work on establishing a set bedtime. When you are ready to start making adjustments to your bedtime in order to accommodate your ideal wake-up time, start small. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier and maintain this new bedtime for approximately one week, making sure that you are waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning as well. This will allow your body to adjust to its new sleep schedule. The first few days may be rough, but your body will gradually adapt to the change.

While waking up earlier than normal from time to time is not very difficult for the average person, establishing an earlier wake-up time as a permanent routine can be much more challenging. Many people who want to wake up earlier stumble right out of the gate by trying to make large adjustments to their sleep schedule all at once, imagining that if they go to bed an hour earlier from now on their body will have no problem waking up an hour earlier as well. Although going to bed an hour earlier may sound simple, especially if you are already feeling fatigued, the body is surprisingly resistant towards changes to its established routines. You may be going to bed an hour earlier, but there is a good chance you are going to spend that hour tossing and turning rather than getting productive, restorative sleep. This in turn can lead to anxiety and discouragement. To avoid this pitfall, start small and be patient. Your broken sleep schedule probably took years to establish itself, so don’t expect to break out of it in a week.

Taking control over your sleep habits and learning to sync your sleep schedule with your personal internal clock can dramatically improve your energy levels and overall quality of life. Having a set bedtime and wake-up time also makes rising in the morning easier, and many people who have developed strong sleep routines find themselves waking up at the same time every morning with or without the help of an alarm clock.

Be sure to pay close attention to your sleep schedule after you have made some changes, especially if you notice that it’s getting harder to wake up at your regularly scheduled time each day and your energy levels are decreasing. Over time, our sleep schedules can be reprogrammed by life factors such as work, relationships, and stress, and it’s important to be able to identify when these shifts occur. These shifts may be gradual, occurring over several weeks, months, or even years. Adjusting to changes in your normal sleep patterns quickly will allow you to decrease the negative impact these changes have on your energy levels, mood, and health.

Tip #2: Take a Look at Your Drinking & Exercise Habits

Drinking a couple of glasses of water before going to bed as a means of waking yourself up earlier in the morning is by no means a new concept. People from around the world have been using this technique for hundreds of years in order to train themselves to rise before the crack of dawn. A full bladder can pull even the groggiest person out of bed easier than the world’s shrillest alarm clock. Plus, drinking water is good for you!

Much like making adjustments to your bedtime, if you are going to try drinking more water at night as a means of waking yourself up earlier in the morning, start small. Drinking too much water at night may end up backfiring if you end up having to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. For those of us with small bladders, drinking extra water at night may not be a feasible solution.  If you try this technique and find that it interrupts your sleep cycle and does more harm than good, abandon it at once.

Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid at all costs. Alcohol may be able to help you fall asleep, but the kind of sleep it encourages is not as restorative as sleep that is not chemically induced. You’ll quickly find that using alcohol as a sleep aid doesn’t produce positive effects, and you may end up drowsier and more fatigued as a result. Without fail, natural sleep is the healthiest, most restorative sleep your body can get.

Cutting caffeine from your diet can also make your sleep schedule easier to control. Your body takes a fairly long time to fully metabolize caffeine, and it can produce residual effects that last hours after consumption. Studies have demonstrated that consuming caffeine even up to six hours before bed can have a significant negative impact on your sleep patterns[2]. Reducing the amount of caffeine you consume on a daily basis or cutting off caffeine consumption relatively early in the day can have a significant positive impact on your sleeping habits.

Avoid strenuous activity or exercise for at least two hours before going to bed[3]. If performed right before bed, activities that elevate your heart rate can make falling asleep at night a major challenge. Instead, get into the habit of reducing your level of physical activity as your bedtime approaches, sticking to relaxing activities like reading or meditating.

Glass of Water on Nightstand
Credit: Don LaVange on Flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Tip #3: Set Multiple Alarms in Inconvenient Locations

If you keep your alarm clock within arm’s reach of your bed, chances are you’re intimately familiar with the snooze button. Placing your alarm clock right next to your bed also gives you the option of resetting it in order to accommodate your desire to sleep in. You may need a little physical coaxing to get out of bed, so consider setting up your alarm clock in a location that requires you to physically stand up and walk over to it in order to turn it off.

While getting up and walking to turn off your alarm clock is enough coaxing for some people to get out of bed, others need a bit more pressure to assure that they aren’t going directly back to sleep. If you still find yourself ignoring your alarm in the morning even after walking across the room to turn it off, consider setting multiple alarms in different locations. Set parallel alarms only a few minutes apart so that your body does not have a chance to re-enter deep sleep between alarms.  Getting up to turn off an alarm clock once may not be taxing enough to fully wake you up, but having to do it two or three times over the course of five minutes may be enough to ensure that you don’t fall back asleep. 

Tip #4: Schedule Unavoidable Tasks Earlier

Waking up early in the morning can be especially difficult if you don’t have a concrete reason for doing so. While simply wanting to wake up earlier may be enough motivation for some people, others need the force of obligation in order to convince themselves to wake up early in the morning. Try scheduling meetings and appointments for early morning time slots as a means of encouraging yourself to wake up earlier. Arrange to have breakfast with coworkers or join a fitness class that begins early in the morning for extra motivation.

Ideally, the activities you schedule for the morning should incorporate other people as much as possible. It is much harder to skip out on an obligation if you know that someone else is going to be waiting for you and is going to be disappointed or upset if you decide not to show up. Knowing that someone else is depending on you to show up for something can be a powerful incentive for getting out of bed.

Tip #5: If You Can't Sleep, Get up and Do Something

So let’s say you tried out all of the tips above and you find yourself lying in bed with your eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. Rather than tossing and turning restlessly for an hour before falling asleep, get up and do something else. Tossing and turning in bed is less likely to get us to fall asleep than getting up and reading a book or doing some other form of relaxing activity.

By learning to recognize when you are not tired enough to sleep, you can save yourself a lot of wasted time “trying to sleep.” Lying in bed for an extended period of time while having difficulty falling asleep can produce anxiety and stress, which in turn makes falling asleep even harder. Make a plan to get up and do something if you haven’t fallen asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed.

Avoid engaging in strenuous activities or thought-intensive work while trying to get back to sleep. Watching television or reading articles on the internet may seem like fairly relaxing activities, but the flickering lights from television screens and computer monitors are highly stimulating, and they can place your brain in an excited state, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep. You should avoid watching TV or using a computer for at least an hour prior to going to sleep.

Reading in Bed
Credit: bandita on Flickr/ Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Tip #6: Don't Get Discouraged

Resetting your body’s sleep schedule is difficult, and it may take a while for you to successfully take control over your sleeping habits once and for all. Your body has established its current set of patterns and routines through years and years of reinforcement. Don’t expect instant results when you try to change that heavy conditioning. If your first attempt at adjusting your bedtime or waking time doesn’t work out, give it another go. Whenever things get tough, consider how much of a positive impact establishing a healthy sleep and wake cycle will have on other areas of your life. If you persist and remain focused on what you would ultimately like to achieve, you will find yourself getting closer and closer to your goal with each attempt.



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  1. Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, Kaitlyn Whiton, MHS, Steven M. Albert, PhD, Cathy Alessi, MD, Oliviero Bruni, MD, Lydia DonCarlos, PhD, Nancy Hazen, PhD, John Herman, PhD, Eliot S. Katz, MD, Leila Kheirandish-Gozal, MD, MSc, David N. Neubauer, MD, Anne E. O’Donne "National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary." Sleep Health. 1 (2015): 40-43.
  2. Christopher Drake, Ph.D., F.A.A.S.M.; Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D., F.A.A.S.M.; John Shambroom, B.S.; Thomas Roth, Ph.D. "Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 9 (2013): 1195-1200.
  3. "Insomnia: Tips for better sleep." Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia . 15/06/2012. 19/05/2015 <Web >

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