Chronotherapy is a natural and no cost way to change sleeping habits for those who might have serious sleep deprivation, who have traveled to a new time zone, have a new job at an earlier time or do shift work, or who simply want to reset their body clock.
The 24-Hour Cycle of the Body
The technique of chronotherapy starts with a premise that the body functions on a 24-hour cycle. This cycle is known as the circadian rhythm, which shows that there are significant changes in the body during different times in the day. This rhythm controls things like:
- Body temperature
- Highest blood pressure
- Best alertness times
- Melatonin production
- Deep sleep stages
The circadian rhythm is a built-in device in the body that can be adjusted according to things like the environment and the amount of sunlight, but it can also be reset with the use of chronotherapy.
How to Use Chronotherapy
Based on a person who needs eight hours of sleep, you can start using chronotherapy to change sleeping and waking patterns by moving ahead sleeping and waking times until you reach the desired schedule. Say you are falling aslsep at 3:00 in the morning and want to shift that time to 11:00 at night.
Using this technique, you would go to bed two to three hours later each time for a few days until you finally go around the clock to having the bedtime you prefer. This techinque can also be useful and easier to do in shorter increments of shifting sleep, such as one to two hours at a time. Here's an example using three hours at a time:
- Day One: Go to sleep like usual at 3:00 in the morning and wake up like usual 11:00 in the morning.
- Day Two: Go to sleep three hours later at 6:00 in the morning and wake three hours later at 2:00 in the afternoon.
- Days Three and on: Continue going around the clock adjusting the sleeping and waking times until you reach your desired schedule. In about a week's time you'll be right on track.
It's important to maintain a strict sleeping and waking schedule when practicing this technique. However, many people find they cannot maintain the new schedule and their body will fight to return to its previous sleep pattern. Also, people who have a condition known as delayed sleep phase syndrome usually cannot reset their internal clocks and will find that the technique is not as useful.
There are a number of ways to modify this technique or combine it with another one so that it works better for you.
Some suggestions include:
- Controlled sleep deprivation: To use this technique, a person stays awake all day and night for a day and then goes to bed 90 minutes earlier for a week. The process is repeated until the desired times are reached.
- Light therapy: Some people find that using an artificial light or light box helps them wake in the morning. The goal is to sit in front of the light for approximately thirty to sixty minutes.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Whether you are resetting your sleep schedule or simply trying to sleep better throughout the night, delaying and changing sleeping times can be useful. However, keep in mind that safety of chronotherapy is unknown, so it's important to use caution when practicing it, and talk to your doctor before using this strategy. Notice how you are feeling and continue to make sleep a priority, no matter what kind of schedule you are on.