9 Steps to Fixing Your Sleep Schedule, Straight From the Experts

Woman sleeping in a bright room

Studio Firma / Stocksy

Adulthood is realizing that being forced to nap as a child was the greatest gift life ever gave us (and wondering why we never appreciated it). As we age and our minds hold more information, stress, tasks, and burdens, a good night's sleep becomes more and more sacred—and often, harder to obtain. In fact, according to the CDC, one in three adults doesn't get enough sleep.

If this feels relatable, we get it. So, we tapped sleep experts Shelby Harris, PsyD, and Dan Gartenberg, Ph.D., for their best tips and tricks for getting a better night's sleep and fixing your sleep schedule. Read on for your best slumber in ages.

Meet the Expert

  • Shelby Harris, PsyD, is the sleep health director at Sleepopolis.
  • Dan Gartenberg, Ph.D., is the resident sleep expert at ettitude.
01 of 09

No Scrolling at Bedtime

Scrolling your phone at bedtime is a popular—and bad—habit. While it's ever-so-tempting to watch just a few more TikToks to help you fall asleep, the experts say it's actually doing the opposite. "Not only will scrolling at bedtime expose you to excess blue light, but it will also activate your brain and produce cortisol at a time when you should be relaxing," says Gartenberg. "The addictive nature of the phone makes it a larger hindrance to a regulated bedtime than something like TV because it’s highly engaging and dopamine-fueled in nature."

iPhone and Android have sleep/bedtime mode now, and the experts recommend utilizing that tool and setting your phone aside to help resist the temptations.

02 of 09

Make Your Room Your Personal Sleep Sanctuary

"One of the easiest ways to consistently fall asleep [at your bedtime] and wake up at your... wake-up goal is to save your bed for sleep and sex only," Gartenberg says. "You should not be doing work, looking at your phone, or doing much of anything else in your bedroom."

If you live in a studio, the experts suggest creating a separate desk setup or designated area for work that still allows the bed itself to be strictly used for unwinding and relaxing.

"[Your bedroom] should be a quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable place with sheets with optimal comfort and breathability, like ettitude bedding," says Gartenberg. "In sleep science, this is known as stimulus control. Humans are association machines, and when we do things like work in the bedroom, the bedroom becomes a place where we get activated when it should be a place of tranquility and relaxation."

03 of 09

Consistency Is Key

When it comes to improving your sleep schedule and overall sleep quality, following a consistent regimen can be a helpful way to get your body and mind in the habit of sleeping when it's time for bed.

"Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is important [for maintaining] your circadian rhythm and can help you get better sleep at night," says Harris. "Try to be consistent with bed and wake times seven days a week, and don’t compensate for a bad night of sleep by sleeping in too late the next morning or going to bed too early the next night."

04 of 09

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

This one is simple and to the point, the experts say. "Try to limit alcohol within three hours of bed, limit caffeine eight hours before bed," Harris emphasizes. Yes, that means avoiding that *very tempting* 3 PM cup of coffee.

05 of 09

Get Your Exercise

This concept dates back to being a kid—remember when your parents let you get all your energy out pre-nap? This translates to adulthood, too, just in a more curated way. Research backs this notion, with surveys consistently showing strong associations between exercise and better sleep. Feel good, sleep good.

06 of 09

Use Zeitgebers to Establish Your Rhythm

Zeit-what? "Zeitgeber comes from the German word 'zeit,' which means 'time' and 'geber,' which means giver," Gartenberg explains. "In sleep science, this refers to external cues that can entrench your circadian rhythm. In other words, you can shift or entrench a strong and consistent circadian rhythm when you align certain external cues with your goals. The Zeitgeber that has the largest influence on your circadian rhythm is natural sunlight, but others include the timing of meals, exercise, and even when you socialize and engage in intense work."

"For example, if you want to shift to being more of a morning person, getting sunlight as early as possible can help with this process," he continues. "Morning people will often be better off expending and consuming energy in the morning, while evening people will be better off doing so in the evening."

Most importantly, finding a balanced routine will be the key to success. Yes, being a morning person is fabulous in theory (just ask TikTok), but if you find yourself crumbling under the pressure of being a morning person and not meeting the demands you've created, hit the reset button and set new goals. Slow and steady wins the race.

07 of 09

Avoid Social Jetlag

Developing positive habits and routines sounds fabulous in concept, but it's easier said than done, especially for those always on the go. Gartenberg tells us that a major cause of irregular sleep schedules is going out on the weekend, only to wake up bright and early for work Monday morning. "In sleep science, this is known as social jetlag," he says. "Generally speaking, there are two main solutions. Firstly, try not to go out so late on the weekends. If going out late at night is very important to you, one hack to reduce the impact of social jetlag is to make Friday night your late night, so your body has more time to adjust to an earlier wake up later in the weekend."

If reducing your busy lifestyle is simply not in the cards at the moment, that's ok too. Focus on other sleep schedule-improving methods in the meantime.

08 of 09

Practice Relaxation Methods Before Bed

The experts share that winding down before bed can help your mind rest and therefore help with sleep. Research backs this up, with studies showing that practicing meditation before bed can help prevent sleep disturbances and improve overall sleep quality. Bringing a sense of calm to the mind, body, and soul can translate to a more relaxed state of being when getting into bed and generally leads to positive sleeping results.

09 of 09

When In Doubt, See a Doctor

If all else fails, the experts recommend consulting a somnologist or sleep specialist. Every person is different, and your doctor will be able to help further identify the root of the issue and generally work toward solutions with your specific needs in mind.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1 In 3 Adults Don't Get Enough Sleep.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Feb. 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html.

  2. Youngstedt, Shawn D, and Christopher E Kline. “Epidemiology of exercise and sleep.” Sleep and biological rhythms vol. 4,3 (2006): 215-221. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2006.00235.x

  3. Rusch, Heather L et al. “The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences vol. 1445,1 (2019): 5-16. doi:10.1111/nyas.13996

Related Stories