You Need a Sleep Schedule, Here’s Why

Sleep Schedule

As you get older, it’s a lot harder to recover from weekends out on the town. You might hear from others that the best way to feel refreshed is to make sure you get enough sleep each night. “You need to stay on a schedule and stick to it,” they say. But how on Earth do you get a sleep schedule started and do you even really need one? Well, the truth is that your body is a creature of habit; it loves a good routine. Your cells and internal organs each have their own internal biological clock and it functions better when it knows what to expect each day.

How does your biological clock work?

For a long time, scientists (and the rest of us) thought of the brain as a master command center. It would send out signals to the body saying “okay lungs: inhale, then exhale.” Or “okay body, you’ve been awake for 16 hours, it’s time to sleep.”[1] And from a big-picture level, that made sense.  But in recent years, scientists have posed fundamental challenges to the command center theory by asking questions like Why does your whole body—not just your sleep schedule—feels “off” if you change time zones? Why does eating later during the day tends to produce more weight gain than eating the same meal earlier?

It turns out that your body–and the cells that make up your organs and tissues—operates being guided by not one single master clock, but rather by a series of clocks that synchronize as part of our overall circadian rhythm.[2] In trials with mice, scientists have found that when they shifted sleeping and eating schedules, the mice not only gained more weight but their new behavior also altered the mice’s functioning on a cellular level. This research into the influence of circadian rhythms may have profound consequences for understanding human health.[3] When you veer off schedule—in activities like sleeping and eating—you disrupt your circadian rhythms and may cause dysfunction at the cellular level. Scientists may be cracking the biological code for that age-old human sense of the importance of keeping a routine in daily life.[4]

What happens if you don’t want a sleep schedule?

Research suggests there may be serious consequences for having an inconsistent sleep-wake schedule. You could be packing on more pounds than you realize if you eat later in the day rather than earlier. You may also be more vulnerable to metabolic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.[5] Not sleeping well can lead to more mistakes if you’re forgoing sleep to finish a project for work or school the night before it’s due, or if you’re giving a presentation right after that redeye flight. If you’re exercising, you’ll have to work extra hard just to get minimum results. Given everything that you have to juggle in a day, choosing to make our lives even harder seems like a pretty dumb idea. Who really wants more work? One important way to help keep your internal clock running in sync and on schedule is to simply go to bed and get up at the same time each day.

By establishing and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, you’re allowing for greater synchronization of all these different clocks within your body.[6] You’ll be smarter, fitter, and more alert as a result. If you don’t have a sleep-wake schedule in place—or if you’ve fallen away from your routine— there’s no time like now to start. Spend the next week implementing a schedule that allows you to go to bed and to wake at the same time every day (including weekends).[7]It may take a little effort, but commit to seven consecutive days of the same bedtime and wake time.[9] Your schedule will get easier to follow once you’re used to it, and you’ll be doing important good for your health and well-being, now and over the long term.

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