How to recalibrate your biological clock for better sleep

Ideally, our internal biological clock — our natural circadian rhythm — is synchronized closely to the daily 24-hour cycle of the sun. The reality is not that simple.

One factor is the constantly changing length of day and night throughout the year. Depending on your latitude and the season, there are wide variations in the amount of darkness or sunlight you experience each day, and the duration of daylight typically changes by a minute or two for each successive 24-hour cycle. To compensate, our built-in clock constantly adjusts to the changing of the seasons.

Another factor is normal human physiology. From about age 14 to 30, it’s common for our biological clock to slow down significantly from a normal 24-hour circadian cycle. Adolescents and young adults may experience more of a 26 to 30 hour day. So for this age group, when 11 p.m. rolls around it may feel more like 7 or 8 p.m. This is why it’s common for a teenager to be wide awake at a normal bedtime. And when it’s time to get up at 7 a.m., it may feel more like 3 or 4 in the morning. Hard to get up that early!

Fortunately, by about age 30 most of our biological clocks speed back up to a more normal 24-hour cycle.

Later in life, the biological clocks of some (not all) of us continue to speed up faster than a 24-hour cycle. So this is why 8 p.m. may feel more like 11 p.m. for someone in their 70s , and 4 a.m. may feel more like 7 a.m. This is but one change that age has upon our sleep system.

One way to maintain or recalibrate your biological clock back to normal is to use a consistent wake-up time each day, every day without exception, as much as possible. Then upon awakening immediately expose yourself to light, preferably daylight. This consistency supports better sleep, and is explained in much more detail in the Sleep Timing and Sleep Hygiene sections of the Sleep Training System.

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11 Comments on “How to recalibrate your biological clock for better sleep”


  1. […] p.m.  And 7 a.m. may feel more like 3 or 4 a.m.  Sure, those hours can make it tough to sleep! So resynchronizing your biological clock each day back to a 24-hour circadian rhythm is […]


  2. […] the sun will have a beneficial effect.  If you do it first thing in the morning, you also help to resynchronize your natural biological clock for a new day, which helps produce better sleep.  But getting out and […]


  3. […] processes occur very regularly each day and night, and they are controlled by our master biological clock, which regulates our natural rhythms.  The external cue the biological clock uses to synchronize […]


  4. […] By keeping a disciplined sleep schedule, you help your body’s internal biological clock synchronize to your natural circadian rhythm, and keep your sleep drive at a high level.  These processes […]


  5. […] What you are describing is actually common among adolescents and young adults, who often have a biological clock that runs a bit slow for a few years.  Light therapy and melatonin may help, but in your case we […]


  6. […] By keeping a disciplined sleep schedule, you help your body’s internal biological clock synchronize to your natural circadian rhythm, and keep your sleep drive at a high level.  These processes […]


  7. […] wake time has the profound effect of enabling you to synchronize your sleep drive to your circadian rhythm.  These are the two internal processes that largely control sleep.  When they are synchronized […]


  8. […] Circadian rhythms refer to the 24-hour cycle of day and night we all experience.  Your circadian rhythm sends out an alerting signal in the morning, and the cue it uses to determine this is light.  The circadian alerting signal diminishes in strength when night comes. […]


  9. […] drive actually reinforces another internal sleep regulating system, called your circadian rhythm, which refers to the 24-hour cycles of night and day in our […]


  10. […] way of background, the two most important internal systems controlling sleep are circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive. The two components, when synchronized and working well together, can […]


  11. […] your case, it would appear you are experiencing more like a 26-hour day.  A slower than normal circadian rhythm is actually common from about age 14 through 30, and one reason some high schools are moving to a […]


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