There’s no feeling quite like getting a great night’s sleep, and yet so many of us struggle to sleep at a reasonable hour and our disrupted sleep schedule is to blame.

One in three US adults don’t get enough sleep—at least seven hours per night—on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is challenging, considering that it is a well-established fact. Many people struggle with revenge bedtime procrastination, a common phenomenon in which individuals sacrifice hours of sleep to relax or engage in activities they weren’t able to do earlier in the day. That’s why trying to go to bed at an earlier hour on a consistent basis is a common New Year’s resolution, albeit a difficult one to follow through on.

If improving your sleep habits was on your list of goals for the new year but you’ve already blown it on late-night Netflix binges, fear not. It’s never too late to start catching more Zs.

Keep a consistent sleep schedule

sleep schedule
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Rebecca Robbins, MMSci, PhD, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School, said a consistent sleep schedule helps regulate the circadian rhythm, which is an internal process that controls the sleep–wake cycle and repeats approximately every 24 hours. When this system is regulated, it makes falling asleep and waking up easier and improves overall sleep quality.

“Consistency is as important, if not more important, than sleep duration,” Robbins told Verywell.

A study involving over 2,000 medical interns found that variability in sleep schedules had a significant impact on their mood and symptoms of depression regardless of how many hours of sleep they had.

Another recent study found that late bedtimes and greater sleep variability were generally associated with adverse health outcomes.

Sleeping during the hours of darkness and being awake when it’s light out also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, Robbins said. Exposure to light right before sleeping, whether it be natural sunlight or artificial light from screens, can alter your melatonin levels and make it harder to fall asleep.

Ideally, people should sleep a few hours after sunset and wake up around sunrise, Robbins said, but this schedule isn’t possible for those with late-night work shifts or family obligations.

Rayni Collins, LPC, an online sleep therapist, said that “night owls” can still try to sleep at a consistent time—no matter how late it may be—and hit that minimum of seven hours per night.

“You will need to plan a bedtime that will allow you to get that minimum amount of sleep,” Collins told Verywell. “As a result, you will be able to get quality sleep.”

If you’re looking to sleep earlier though, Robbins recommends moving your bedtime earlier by 15 minutes each night, rather than trying to drastically alter your sleep schedule.

How to bounce back from a late night

sleep schedule
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Despite our best efforts, we all have off nights where we go to bed a little too late or spend hours tossing and turning. But there are some useful ways to bounce back after a bad night’s sleep.

“If you have one night of poor sleep and you are really tired the next day, you might consider taking a short nap to help you get through the rest of the day,” Robbins said.

She said a 20-minute nap in the afternoon might help if you feel extremely sleep deprived. Getting back on track as soon as possible is paramount, she added, so you might want to start your bedtime routine about an hour earlier than usual to add a bit of extra sleep to your schedule.

“It may take a few days of this—taking a short nap in the afternoon and starting your bedtime routine a bit earlier to allow for a bit more sleep—before you feel back to normal,” she said.

How to improve your sleep hygiene

sleep hygiene
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If you’re just looking to improve your general sleep habits and quality, there are a number of ways to improve your sleep hygiene.

The CDC recommends making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature. It also suggests removing electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom.

Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime is also a good idea, and getting in some physical activity throughout the day can make it easier to fall asleep at night.

And remember: Having an off night every now and then is completely normal and nothing to worry about, but talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about consistently struggling with sleep.

If you’ve been meaning to improve your sleep schedule but continuously find yourself going to bed late, focus on consistency. Going to bed and waking up at a consistent hour is one of the best ways to regulate your circadian rhythm and get better quality sleep.

(Credit for Hero and Feature Image: Verywell/Mira Norian)

This story first appeared on www.verywellhealth.com

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