Your ability to get good quality sleep hinges on whether your circadian system is properly aligned with your desired day/night cycle.
If your brain and body think it’s still time to be awake when you want to go to bed, guess what? You ain’t goin’ to bed. *sassy finger snapping*
In this article, we’ll go over a ton of different strategies you can use to fix your circadian rhythm!
If you implement all of these you will fix your sleep cycle.
What is Your Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm refers to the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to the level of light in your environment.
We’re going to go over some strategies you can implement to make sure the right signals are being presented at the right time.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
I’m not going to get into the nerdy nitty-gritty circadian biology stuff here, there’s plenty of that out there already, this guide will focus on the practical application side of things.
So let’s dig into it!
1. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
The most important thing to do is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
If your circadian rhythm isn’t working properly, you might be having a hard time with this very simple and basic task.
Insomnia is the most common result of an unregulated circadian rhythm.
I dare say that if you follow every suggestion in this guide it would be near impossible for you to suffer from insomnia.
2. Keep Social Jet Lag to a Minimum!
Odds are that if you have friends that don’t take their sleep or health very seriously, they’re out late on the weekends.
Staying up late at night 1 to 2 days out of the week will create a ripple effect throughout the week where your circadian rhythm is playing catch up.
If you want to fix your sleep, you’re going to have to not do this.
Now, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and sometimes it’s worth doing for special events and quality of life. That’s okay.
It just shouldn’t be every single weekend forever.
One strategy you can implement to mitigate the downsides to spending a day out on the town is to purchase and wear a pair of blue-blocking glasses.
These will cut down on the amount of circadian-stimulating light entering your eyes and dim the environment a little bit too, helping you create melatonin at the proper time even though you’re staying up a bit later than usual.
We go over recommendations later in this guide, but you can jump to them now if you’d like.
2. Wake Up With a Sunrise Alarm Clock
Sunrise alarm clocks allow us to simulate morning dawn. This is important because when we utilize dawn simulation we start producing cortisol at an optimal time in our sleep cycle.
We have an in-depth article on the science behind dawn simulation here.
How to Use a Sunrise Alarm Clock
You’ll want it to reach full brightness at your desired wake-up time. Setting it for a half hour is enough, although you can experiment with longer.
Don’t use the audible alarm functions! Being jolted out of your peaceful slumber at a specific time is going to defeat the purpose of this whole thing. Duh.
Here are some strategies to ensure you can use a non-audible alarm clock without the anxiety of not waking up on time:
- Schedule the time: As an adult, you should be getting around 7-9 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Make sure you are giving yourself time for this. You should be able to wake up naturally to a dawn simulator alarm clock after 8 hours or so of sleep without the need for an audible alarm.
- Step it back if you need to: If the thought of not using an alarm clock perturbs you, slowly step back your bedtime until you can comfortably risk sleeping in a bit in the morning. If you need to step it back by an hour, don’t try it all at once, do 10 minutes every 2-3 days.
- Pay attention to your drowsiness: Even if you think you’re doing everything right, you may need more sleep. I you notice you’re consistently tired during the day (not just after lunch) you may just need to step that bedtime back, or have your dawn simulation turn on a little later. These things can take time to figure out.
With that being said here are the best sunrise alarm clocks:
Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips makes the best and brightest wake-up light on the market. It’s a bit expensive, but, buy once cry once. This light starts off at a very dim red/orange color and advances into a bright white/yellow light. The cheaper options below suffer in color, brightness, and overall user experience.
Generic Sunrise Alarm Clock
This is a great option for those of you who want a sunrise alarm clock but absolutely cannot swing for the price of the Philips.
3. Get Sunlight Exposure First Thing in the Morning
If you can, the absolute best thing you can do after waking up is to go get sunlight (assuming it’s not noon) directly into your eyes.
You’ll want to get around 15 to 30 minutes of this bright light exposure to ensure a good response.
This is especially important for those of you with any issues falling asleep or waking up. If the sun is out, go outside and go for a walk.
Bright light after waking will phase advance all aspects of your circadian rhythm. Meaning you’ll produce more cortisol after waking, and you’ll produce melatonin sooner in the evening.
4. Buy a Light Therapy Lamp
If it’s winter time or you simply don’t have good direct access to morning sunlight, a good alternative is to buy yourself a light therapy lamp and use that instead.
We just recently reviewed all of the lamps made by Circadian Optics, and will continue to test more as time goes on.
Speaking of testing! You can access our light therapy lamp database below to compare all of the lamps we’ve tested to date!
5. Buy Some Light Therapy Glasses
If you have to leave for work first thing in the morning while it’s dark out, or you just don’t have time to bask in the sunlight, a pair of light therapy glasses is an essential tool for better circadian alignment.
If you’re looking for the most effective portable light therapy, go with the Luminette, however, the AYO is much dimmer and more comfortable while still being very effective, so it’s also an excellent choice that I prefer.
AYO Light Therapy Glasses
- Our favorite pair!
- Comfortable and effective light blue light
- Simple use and lightweight
- 60-day money-back guarantee
Luminette Light Therapy Glasses
- The most effective portable light therapy glasses on the market
- Works very well with glasses
- 3 adjustable brightness levels
- 30-day money-back guarantee
6. Simulate the Natural Temperature Rise and Fall
Another interesting way to sync your circadian rhythm is to simulate the temperature rise normally seen at dawn.
How to Simulate Ambient Temperature Changes
Set your thermostat to drop by 5 degrees an hour before you go to bed. This will allow the house to begin cooling and continue cooling as you sleep.
Have the house begin to heat back up a couple of hours before you wake up!
If you don’t have control over the thermostat, or you just want even more control over this temperature hack, consider grabbing a BedJet.
BedJet 3 Smart Climate Bed Fan
The Bedjet has amazing programmability and unlike pad-based systems, it preserves the natural feel of your mattress.
7. Spend as Much Time Outside as You Can
Whether you’re at home or in the office, lux levels indoors are very low compared to even a cloudy overcast day.
Daytime is all about bright sunlight. The more bright light exposure you have, the better your sleep will be.
So as a general rule, just spend as much time as you can outside.
8. Get Your Office as Close to Windows as Possible
At work or at home, try to get your office space as close to a window as you can, south-facing windows are best. If this isn’t possible, then the east is second best, as a bright light in the morning is far more important than in the evening. Obviously, avoid glare and any other uncomfortable issues that can arise.
9. Mimic Sunlight Where it’s Needed
If you’re trapped indoors all day long, whether that’s at home or in your work cubicle, you need to make sure you’re getting bright enough light in your eyes to thoroughly activate the circadian response.
My guide on How to Mimic Full Spectrum Sunlight Indoors is worth a read if you think you might benefit from this.
10. Stop Needlessly Wearing Sunglasses
There are modern environments where wearing sunglasses is efficacious, such as very shiny roads, snow, or water. But if you’re the type to just slap on a pair of shades simply because you’re outside, gasp. Stop it.
11. Limit Late Night Exercise
12. Keep Calories Lower in the Evening
It’s generally recommended to limit larger meals to earlier in the day/evening for various reasons.
- Glucose tolerance is limited following melatonin secretion. [R] [R]
- Gastric emptying is slower. [R]
- Resting metabolic rate slows. [R]
So ideally, the evening is not the best time to consume a large number of calories.
However! There are studies and literature on evening meals and snacks not having much of a negative impact on healthy individuals.
- When shifting the evening meal from 5 hours before bed to 1 hour before bed in 20 healthy adults, no disruption in sleep quality was found. [R]
- Nighttime snack consumption does not appear to be detrimental, and may even be useful in some cases. [R]
That being said, it’s probably best to keep large meals 2-3 hours away from bedtime, but if you’re hungry before bed, you may find sleep comes easier and deeper if you indulge in a little snack, I know it does for me!
13. Develop a Good Nighttime Routine
Often overlooked, but a good nighttime routine can work wonders on sleep onset and sleep anxiety.
Many of us are GO-GO-GO all day long and don’t even realize just how stressed we are until we lay down to sleep and a flood of thoughts rush over us, preventing us from relaxing enough to drift off.
Giving yourself time to unwind and listen to your thoughts, before trying to fall asleep, can be a very useful strategy for some people.
We go over strategies for creating one of these in our article on Bedtime Routine Ideas.
14. Turn on Dim Warm Lighting Before Bed
As a general rule, it’s important that we keep our lighting dim and warm before bed.
In one study using a 4000K light source and around 50 participants, levels of just 6-10 lux were enough to suppress melatonin by 50% in some people. While others did not reach 50% suppression until light levels reached 400 lux.
So it would appear that some people are hyper-responders to evening light exposure.
If you don’t already own some, I urge you to check out our round-up article on the Best Lights for Sleeping!
15. Grab a Pair of Blue Blocking Glasses
If you can’t fully control the light you’re surrounded by in the evening, the next best thing is a good pair of blue blockers.
Orange or amber glasses will block most blue light, while red glasses will block most of the blue and green light.
We’ve tested over 30 of the best blue block in glasses in our database here:
The choice of lens color depends on how bad you’re sleep is and how sensitive you find yourself to stimulating blue and green light.
Here are a couple of options:
TrueDark Blue Blockers
This is one of my favorite premium blue-blocking glasses companies.
We also have an article on the best blue-blocking glasses if you’d like a few more options…
Infield Terminator Amber Glasses
These laser safety glasses are one of my favorite budget blue blocking options, so if you’re looking to save a little money, can’t go wrong here!
16. Block the Blue Light From Your Phone
If you have any trouble sleeping at all, I recommend complete abstinence from electronics an hour or two before bed.
However, if you’re going to use them anyway, it should be done responsibly!
Set Night Shift to turn on about two hours before your bedtime if you have an iPhone and do the same for whatever your brand Android calls it.
Here’s an example of what Night Shift does to the light output of an iPhone:
But you can block even more than that with a red light filter, and this can be automated!
Check out our guide on blocking blue light on your iPhone for a guide on setting up the perfect evening iPhone.
17. Block the Blue Light From Your Computer
Use a Web Page Darkening App
You can drastically cut down on blue light and the overall brightness emitted from your computer by installing Dark Reader on your web browser. This website has its own night mode, as you will have hopefully seen.
Dark Reader Extension
I prefer setting this up so that it turns on when my device shifts to night mode. It helps to remind me that it’s getting close to bedtime and to start wrapping up my work.
Download the IRIS App
IRIS is an application that allows for better dimming control on Windows machines, which I consider essential. If you own a webcam, you can let IRIS use that for monitor auto-dimming, even if your computer doesn’t support such a thing.
A great application for Windows machines, however, some of the features didn’t work as well on my Macbook Air so I’ll recommend the program below for MacOS users.
Download the Lunar App
If you own a MacBook, you owe it to yourself to get Lunar on it. Lunar gives you far more control over dimming, including the ability to auto-dim external monitors in sync with your laptop.
I have my Lunar app set to Sensor mode so that my external monitor dims with my MacBook as I dim my office lights.
18. Make Sure Your Bedroom is Dark!
As you go to sleep, it’s important to keep your bedroom dark at night.
The natural night is extremely dark, and you don’t want any man-made light causing your body any confusion about what time of day it is.
Make sure your room is blackout dark at night, you shouldn’t be able to see your hands move in front of your face.
Use a combination of blackout shades and blackout curtains if you have to, the darker the better. When setting up curtains, use a wraparound rod. You can also use a draft stopper to block light from under the door.
Check out our article on how to blackout your bedroom for a list of ideas!
19. Use a Sleep Mask if You Have Too
Everybody needs a good sleep mask. If you can’t get your room dark enough, either your partner is reading with the light on, or you’re traveling, a sleep mask is the solution.
Manta Sleep Masks
Manta makes the best sleep masks on the market by far. Check out their collection to find which one would suit you best.
This section is for those of you who either don’t have time to connect all the dots above or just want a quick list of things that can be done to optimize your biology.
- Wake up around the same time every day with a dawn-simulating sunrise alarm clock.
- Expose yourself to bright light within 15 minutes of waking up for at least 10 minutes.
- Get all-day bright light exposure, and create your own light setups if necessary.
- In the evening, keep your exercise and meals light.
- Keep evening lighting very dim and warm, two hours before bed.
- Blackout your bedroom to keep artificial light from disrupting your circadian rhythm and sleep.