Good sleep means more than getting enough hours. A consistent schedule matters, too.

Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D.Dr. Srijan Sen, director of the Eisenberg Family Depression Center, co-authored a paper published in NPJ Digital Medicine. The study focused on the effects of variability in sleep parameters on depression risk. 

The paper was recently referenced in an article by the Washington Post: 'Good sleep means more than getting enough hours. A consistent schedule matters, too.' Read the full article here.

Here's an excerpt: 


Tips for maintaining the cycle

To maintain a consistent sleep schedule, it’s important to stay as “in sync” as possible with your natural circadian rhythm. Here are tips.

Wake at the same time every day
According to Davis, rising at the same time every day (or as close to it as possible), including weekends, is “one of the most powerful anchors to keep our circadian rhythm functioning regularly.” Bertisch suggests using an alarm to ensure a consistent wake time.

Eat and exercise at the same time
Try to eat and exercise at roughly the same times every day. Davis said this is particularly important if your schedule doesn’t permit you to get a sufficient amount of sleep. Keeping your other routines consistent offer “a cue for your circadian rhythm to stay on track.”

Also, avoid elevating your heart rate within three hours of your desired bedtime. According to Murray, a workout causes spikes in your cortisol levels and your body temperature, both of which should be decreasing in order to prepare your body for sleep.

Stick to a regular bedtime routine
Even if you can’t go to sleep at the same time every night, it’s important to prepare your body to wind down the same way every night. Murray suggests setting an alarm about 30 to 60 minutes before the time you plan to get into bed and avoiding light exposure and stimulation during this time. Dim the lights, unplug from work and avoid screens.

That said, if you have no problem falling asleep after watching a “Friends” rerun, there’s no reason to stop doing this, said Davis. He said the content itself, rather than the blue light exposure, is the biggest threat to good sleep. In other words, don’t doom-scroll before bed.

Keep your naps short
“Naps can be kind of tricky,” said Davis. Longer naps in particular can disrupt your circadian rhythm by pushing your bedtime later than usual. If you really need a midday fade, he suggests sticking to “power naps” of up to 30 minutes.

Go outdoors
Murray suggests spending time outside (without sunglasses) as early in the day as possible. Even two minutes outdoors before 10 a.m. will help you perk up, she said: Our eyes have neurons that “take data points from the sunlight” to signal our brains to release cortisol. While some of us can get by with indoor light, Bertisch said, others need the brightness of natural light to improve their mood and alertness.

Going outdoors in the late afternoon can have the opposite effect, according to Murray. The distinct quality of late-day light (including the angle at which it hits your eyes and the ratio of the different colors of light), tells your body evening is approaching and boosts melatonin production.

“We are animals living on a spinning planet. One of the main drivers of when we sleep is what our circadian rhythm is and what our biological night is and that is largely determined by sunlight and timing of light exposure,” said Bertisch. “The best way to sleep is actually having better routines.”