Sleep Health

When More Sleep Isn't Good Enough

According to the experts at Harvard Medical School, one of the biggest factors in insomnia is actually sleeping too much and at the wrong time.

Sleeping late now and then may feel like a luxury, the Harvard experts say. But an inconsistent sleep schedule can throw off the body’s sleep and waking pattern, or circadian rhythm. “It can lead to insomnia, but people don’t realize that their schedule is causing the problem,” says sleep specialist Dr. Cynthia Dorsey, assistant professor of psychology in Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department. Dorsey made her remarks in the September issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

As a first step toward getting your patterns back to normal, Dorsey suggests seeing a sleep expert. A qualified expert will conduct a physical exam to make sure your insomnia isn’t caused by an underlying health condition. If nothing is found, Dorsey suggests a sleep journal. Each morning, recording your waking time and the bed time from the night before as well as how long it took you to fall asleep and whether you woke up during the night.

After a few weeks, Dorsey says, you will see a pattern, which can help you decide what changes you need to make. Dorsey tells the Harvard Health Letter that the wake time is the most important element because it “anchors” the circadian rhythm. Additionally, she recommends using an alarm clock to stick to the schedule.

Other suggestions from Harvard:

Make bedtime about seven or eight hours before the alarm will sound.

Have a “wind-down period” as part of the bedtime routine. Stop use of electronic devices an hour and a half before bed. Keep the lights low, and engage in relaxing activities like reading.

During the day, keep a regular schedule for activities including work, meals, exercise, and socializing. The more regular your body cycle is, the likelier you’ll be to have a good night’s sleep at last.

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).