My sleep schedule is typically pretty erratic. Sometimes I’ll wake up early. Other times I have trouble sleeping and will slowly start sleeping in later and later. Worse, like most people, I usually sleep in much later on the weekends. Unfortunately, having an irregular sleep schedule can affect your sleep and overall health.
Your body clock, or circadian rhythm, is an internal system that regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24 hour period. Your circadian rhythm also controls hormonal levels, body temperature, metabolism, and your immune system. When you wake up at erratic times, your body’s functions become misaligned with the needs of the day. For example, if you go try to go to sleep too early, melatonin (a hormone that promotes sleep) will not have been released in sufficient quantities and you’ll have trouble falling asleep. If you wake up too early, your body temperature, heart rate and cortisol levels will be low and you will be less alert as a result (I ran into a mailbox when I had to wake up at 5:30 am one morning). Staying on a consistent schedule, not surprisingly then, will help you sleep better and feel more refreshed in the morning. In fact, the Sleep Foundation lists keeping a consistent sleep schedule as their #1 sleep tip.
Sleeping erratically can also affect your physical health. One study found that participants who went to sleep and woke up at roughly the same time each night had lower body fat. Specifically, those with more than 90 minutes of variation a week, had significantly higher body fat than those with less than 60 minutes of variation a week. Having a consistent wake time was found to be especially important. Another study found that irregular sleep patterns are also associated with metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Do your best to wake up at roughly the same time every day (even on the weekends). Setting an alarm in the morning can be helpful when you’re starting out. Exposing yourself to light early in the morning and avoiding artificial light before you go to bed will also help you stay on a consistent schedule. Let us know how it goes!
Bailey, Bruce W., et al. “Objectively measured sleep patterns in young adult women and the relationship to adiposity.” American Journal of Health Promotion 29.1 (2014): 46-54.
Shanmugam, Vignesh, et al. “Disruption of circadian rhythm increases the risk of cancer, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.” Journal of Local and Global Health Science 2013 (2013).