With 24/7 work schedules and jam-packed weekend activities, it’s not surprising that nearly two-thirds of Americans report their sleep needs aren’t being met during a typical week. And while you may try to make up for that sleep deficit on the weekend, experts say that isn’t necessarily a sound strategy.
“Just like traveling from Detroit to LA can wreak havoc on your body’s natural clock, so too can waking up early on workdays and sleeping in on weekends,” explains Meeta Singh, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System. “If you stay up until the wee hours on Friday and Saturday nights and sleep in both days afterward, you’re essentially forcing your body into a different time zone—and you’re doing it every week.”
Dubbed “social jet lag,” this phenomenon not only makes it tough to stay on your A-game, it also increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. So instead of waking and sleeping at times that are out of sync with your internal clock — and shifting between two different sleep schedules (one for weekdays and one for weekends) — Dr. Singh recommends these six strategies for maintaining a healthy and consistent sleep schedule.
- Stick to a schedule. Your body functions best when you maintain the same sleep and wake times every day. So if you typically wake up at 7 a.m., do that seven days a week. If you allow yourself to stay up later or sleep in on the weekends, you’ll be back at point zero again.
- Take a nap. Many people rely on the weekend to overcome the sleep deficit they accrued during the workweek. Instead of sleeping in to achieve your seven to nine hours, consider taking a mid-afternoon nap. Just make sure you snooze before 2 p.m. (or at least 6 hours before your usual bedtime), and keep it to 30 minutes or less. Otherwise you run the risk of disrupting nighttime sleep.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. “Start winding down about an hour before bedtime. Shut off all electronics, take a warm bath or read a novel,” says Singh. The key is to choose activities that are soothing rather than engaging. Make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet and resist the urge to imbibe too close to bedtime. Alcohol may be relaxing initially, but it ultimately interferes with restful sleep.
- Get moving. People who exercise regularly sleep more soundly — just don’t work out too close to bedtime. Exercise spikes your body temperature and it takes about six hours for it to drop again. Since a cooler body temperature is associated with sleep onset, it’s best to exercise before 3 p.m.
- Bathe in the light. Stepping into the sunlight first thing in the morning (even if it’s cloudy) signals to your body’s natural clock that it’s time to wake up — even if you were up partying into the early morning hours. Aim to spend at least 15 minutes in the sunshine each day, even if it’s not early in the morning.
- Take steps to de-stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and progressive relaxation (where you imagine your toes are relaxed, then your feet, and then your ankles, working your way up your body until you reach the top of your head) can also help your body and mind wind down.
Nobody expects you to ditch your social life and go to bed at 10 p.m. every weekend. And catching an extra hour or two of snoozing time on Saturdays and Sundays won’t sabotage an overall healthy sleep schedule. But if you have problems adjusting back to weekday hours, do your best to keep a consistent wake time — even if you have to rely on a midday nap to power through your day.
Most importantly, if you think you have a sleep problem that impacts your sleep schedule — either excessive daytime sleepiness or difficulty sleeping at night — talk to your doctor. Sleep disorders such as insomnia are more common than you think. Getting an appropriate diagnosis can dramatically improve your quality of life.
To find a doctor or sleep specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).