How to Change Your Body Clock

by Ewan MacDougal
(Sleep Tips Forum Submission)

Like many people, I spent some time working a night shift and struggled to get my body clock to cooperate on weekends. I was lucky in that I was able to solve the problem quite easily by changing my sleep routine and installing a blind in my bedroom that enabled me to get the sleep I needed.

By sharing my experiences and what I learned, perhaps this information can help other people who are struggling to get rest during the day and improve their quality of life.

My story started when I was 18. I decided I was going to take a break from studying, before going to university, and spend a year volunteering in South East Asia. This was going to require saving a lot of money very quickly while I was still going to secondary school.

The only job I could find that paid enough and fit with my school schedule was working as a bartender at a night club on the weekends. So, that's what I did. The bar was one of the open-all-night kind of clubs. I didn't get home from work until seven or eight o'clock in the morning when the sun was already up and many other people were on their way to work.

I'd get home exhausted to find my family awake and sitting in the living room. In my attempts to be sociable, I'd more often than not find myself falling asleep on the couch next to them. And, this is where I’d still be eight hours later.

My Sleep Issues

Eight hours may seem like a perfectly reasonable amount of sleep to get. I admit I was far better off than other people I knew who worked the same shift and claimed they couldn’t sleep after work. However, despite getting an ample amount of sleep, I found it extremely difficult to wake up.

When I did get up, I felt exhausted as if I hadn't slept at all. As time went on, I'd sleep longer and longer during the day until eventually I was sleeping close to 15 hours - yet not feeling at all refreshed.

I couldn’t understand why I felt better during the week when I was getting less sleep at night. Yet, when I slept longer during the day time on the weekends, I was always tired.

Searching for a Solution

Frustrated by my inability to feel rested, I began doing some research. I discovered that people require high levels of melatonin to achieve restful, deep sleep - particularly during the REM stage of sleep.

For melatonin to be produced, a certain enzyme needs to be present. The penal gland controls the levels of this enzyme and quantities are produced at night. Yet, when your body clock thinks it's day time, the penal gland blocks the enzyme from being produced, keeping you awake and alert.

So, I learned that my body wasn’t producing enough melatonin to allow me to achieve the quality REM sleep I needed to wake up feeling rejuvenated. To fix this problem, I needed to change my body clock to think it was night time when I needed to sleep and day time when I had to work.

To do this I needed to understand how my body clock worked. The penal gland "reads" a number of environmental factors to decide the time of day. These are called zeitgebers and include things like the lighting conditions and temperature. When there is a lot of blue light, which is present in the day time sky, your body prevents melatonin from being produced. However without this light and with a drop in temperature. your body thinks that it is night time and allows the appropriate sleep hormones to be produced.

My Strategy

I needed to simulate the zeitgebers that would allow me to produce enough melatonin to enter REM sleep. Here's what I did:

  • My first step was to become better about going to bed when I got home. My bed was a place my body already associated with sleeping so this was helpful.
  • Next, I needed to block all the blue light that was coming through my bedroom window. My curtains weren’t really thick enough to do this properly so iI got a couple of blackout made-to-measure blinds that did a great job of covering the window. The blinds also helped keep the sun's heat out, which helped create a temperature drop.
  • Then, I got rid of any other blue light in the room; this was mostly a case of covering the "stand-by LEDs" from my electronic devices.
With these changes, I found that I was able to achieve a deeper, better quality of sleep. Yet, I was still finding it hard to get up and go to work at night. I felt tired because, by the time I was getting up, it was night time again and my body was producing melatonin.

To solve this problem, I got up a couple of hours before dusk so I could have some time in natural blue light. I also made sure I took a warm shower when I first got up to help increase my body temperature.

Positive Results

After a few weeks, these changes to my after-work routine began to real make a difference. I started going to work not feeling so much like a human zombie running on auto pilot. I enjoy my job more and think my enthusiasm must have visibly improved because I got more tips.

I eventually raised all the money I needed to travel and even had some left over to help pay for my first year at university the following year. Once you understand why you're having sleep problems, it is easier to arrive at a solution. Hopefully my story can help anyone who is experiencing similar problems.

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