People with mood disorders often struggle to establish healthy circadian rhythms. They often go to sleep later than they should, and wake up later as well. This affects mood as well as ability to participate in normal life. For someone who is going to sleep at 4:00 am and waking up at 1:00 pm, changing to a better sleep pattern can be a real challenge. We recommend making the change gradually, rather than trying to jump into a midnight-to-seven-am schedule all at once.
A change in circadian rhythm of this magnitude is actually similar to flying across several time zones and then trying to adjust to the sleep and wake schedule of the new place. Considerable research has gone into the experience of jet lag, which turns out to also be of value to the insomniac struggling with establishing a healthy daily routine while staying at home.
We have found the “Jet Lag Calculator” to be helpful for insomnia related to mood disorder, and we recommend giving this site a try for your own sleep schedule planning. Since you’re not taking a big trip to an exotic location, you may need to re-run the calculator several times to gradually move to the new circadian schedule. In its intended context, the jet lag calculator only gives you six days to adjust your schedule, assuming that your underlying sleep routine is basically healthy and traveling to a new time zone is just one big jump. Even with this caution, we suggest the calculator may help.
Step one: Determine your own current sleep schedule and your target schedule. For example, the person in paragraph one who goes to sleep at 4:00 am may want to establish a daily rhythm of an 11:00 pm bedtime. This would ideally be followed by seven or eight hours’ sleep, giving a wake time of 6 or 7 am.
Step two: Figure out how this change maps onto a time zone map, which you would be using if traveling to a distant location. From 4:00 am back to 11:00 pm is a five hour change, similar to a trip from Honolulu to New York, so enter your target sleep time in the “normal sleep” box at the top of the calculator (the times that appear beside the cities are your flight times which, if not traveling, you can ignore).
Basically, the advice is not to try to jump all at once into the new schedule, but rather to go to bed one hour earlier (or later) each day until the new pattern is established.
Step three: Skipping the plane travel on Day 3, you just go to bed one hour earlier each day until you reach the target time on Day 5. The other part of the recommendation is that you make an effort to “be in lighter environments” upon waking, which will be one hour earlier each day. You could use a full-spectrum light, or make sure to drink your morning coffee sitting in a sunny window, or walking outside where you are getting more light.
Conversely, if you want to sleep later and wake up later, try to be in a lighter environment for the last two or three hours of the day, which helps you stay awake until bedtime.
For more information, check out our post: “Chronotherapy Success!”