In many parts of the world, people are attempting to return to life as it was before the pandemic – at least when it comes to work and school. For many, that means a sleepy morning struggle to wake, eat breakfast, pack lunches, get kids and themselves out the door, and battle a commute.
“Without the commute, people have been able to sleep in, and when that changes they will take some time to adjust back to the new normal,” said Dr. Bhanuprakash Kolla, a sleep medicine specialist in the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Night owls may find it especially hard to return to an early morning awakening, so “If work schedules are flexible, then develop a plan for a later work start time,” said sleep specialist Kenneth Wright, a professor of integrative psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder.
If that’s not possible, a few weeks before your return to work start date, roll back your bedtime by 15 minute intervals and set the wake-up alarm for 15 minutes earlier each day until you reach your goal, said Rebecca Robbins, an associate scientist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital who studies sleep.
“Fifteen minute increments is recommend because that’s enough to move in the direction of a new time zone, a new work schedule or what have you without being too disruptive,” said Robbins, who is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Unfortunately we can’t move our sleep schedules in a large way from one day to the next and hope to be just fine,” she added. “It does take time, and so be patient.”
Here are five additional tips to more easily transition your sleep schedule.
1. Establish a consistent time to go to sleep and wake
Having set times to go to sleep and wake up is essential to getting your sleep back on track, said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
It’s important to go to bed and rise at the same time every day, even on weekends or any days you might still work from home, experts told CNN. Having an irregular sleep schedule is associated with major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, mood disorders and immune dysfunction, according to studies.
“Set your alarm in the morning, and don’t hit that snooze button,” Dasgupta advised. “Try your best to get out of bed when your alarm goes off and try to get outside, especially if the weather is good and there is a lot of sunshine in the morning. This will allow suppression of melatonin and reset that circadian rhythm.”
Turning up the lights in the house in the morning and taking work breaks with a walk outside during the day will also help reset your body clock, Wright said.
To get your body ready for bed, “equally important is to dim the lights and electronics in the home at night,” Wright said.
2. Avoid sleep killers
There are lots of bad habits that can interfere with quality sleep. Drinking beer, wine or liquor before bed is a guaranteed buzzkill for good sleep, because it metabolizes in the middle of the night and will wake you up.
Another pattern to avoid is using the bedroom to watch television or work. You want to train your brain to expect sleep when you enter your bedroom, so the bed is only for sleeping and sex, Dasgupta said.
“This means don’t bring your laptop into bed, and put that cell phone away,” he said. “No more ‘working from bed.’ If you can’t sleep once you’re in bed, the general rule of thumb is to not spend more than 20 minutes tossing and turning.
“Instead, get out of bed and do something relaxing in very low light, and then head back to bed only when you are ready to fall asleep,” he added.