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We are creatures of habit. We eat the same food. We listen to the same music. We take the same route to and from work. We wear the same outfits. But sometimes, we have a hard time finding a good routine for sleep. That’s not good. A regular sleep schedule is a key component of a healthy lifestyle.

Routines are especially important for children. They thrive with routines and function better when the world is predictable. That follows for sleep, as children are more likely to sleep well when a pattern is established. Some parents are good about putting a child to bed at a regular time, which helps orient the body’s natural clock. Unfortunately, according to a Sleep Foundation study, only about 50% of children have consistent bedtimes.

Consistency is not only beneficial for children, but also for adults. The body wants a natural rhythm. When we have a routine, we become more alert and are able to function better during waking hours. The mind is fresh, because the body has been able to determine when it needs to be alert and when it is time for sleep. When we don’t follow a routine, we can become sluggish, not as attentive, and have more trouble falling asleep.

When sleep doesn’t come at a predictable time, it can take the body a much longer time to start the sleep cycle.  Predictability is the body’s lifeline to the daily cycles of life. A study recently published by the Journals of Gerontology: Series B showed that young people who work and eat dinner around the same time each day slept better. The subjects had an easier time falling asleep and woke up less during the night. The study found, interestingly, that the time of the routine didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was a structured schedule. A person who ate dinner at 6 p.m. was just as likely to get a good night sleep as someone who ate at 8 p.m.

Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to attain a predictable schedule. Work, life, and obligations can get in the way. And lets be honest, we enjoy relaxing in front of the TV in the evening and don’t mind staying up a little late to finish watching a show or a sporting event. We might get to bed at 9:30 one night and 11 the next.

But your health can suffer if you don’t stick to a regular sleep schedule. Lack of sleep is known to cause major health problems like diabetes, heart conditions and other ailments. It can also vastly impact your ability to interact with people. We are easier to get along with after a solid night of sleep.

That is why you should really try to begin practicing a regular, predictable sleep schedule. It needs to be part of an overall sleep routine. You should start by having low lighting as you approach sleep time. This lets the body know that the time for sleep is approaching. Also, you need to make sure you have light-blocking curtains. That way the natural light won’t filter in before you sleep or wake.

You need to find a sleep schedule that fits your lifestyle. If you leave for work at 6:30 a.m., you don’t want to start sleep at 1 a.m. It would be better to go to sleep around 9:30 or 10 p.m. It’s recommended that you get between seven and eight hours of sleep for optimal health.

Realize that it might take several weeks for your body to adjust to a regular sleep schedule. So, don’t be worried if it’s difficult to adjust to a routine at first. Give it time. Your body will naturally fall into a cycle. It just takes a little time.

And try not to deviate on the weekends. It’s easy to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends. That patterns, however, throws off the sleep schedule. When you try to get back on schedule Sunday night, you can experience what is often called social jet lag. It’s a lot like regular jet lag. Your body is on a particular time schedule and does not want to change.

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