For most Americans, the beginning of Daylight Saving Time this weekend means one less hour of sleep as we turn the clocks ahead an hour.
While springing forward grants us a little extra sunshine after months of cold, dark winter days, the time shift can also wreak havoc on sleep patterns and can cause problems with concentration, memory, fatigue, and worse.
In fact, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found Daylight Saving Time changes — in the spring and fall — increase the risk for accidents, heart attacks, stroke, anxiety, and depression in the days immediately afterward.
Dr. Robert Oexman, director of The Sleep to Live Institute, tells Newsmax Health the time shift in the spring has a greater negative impact on our wake-sleep cycle, known as the natural circadian rhythm, making it more difficult for most people to adjust.
“By springing forward, we lose an hour of sleep, compared to falling back when we gain an extra hour of sleep,” Oexman explains.
“Our natural circadian rhythm is just slightly longer than 24 hours, so it is easier for us to adjust to a longer day than it is a shorter day…. We can typically adjust to an hour of time change per day, but this is highly dependent on factors such as age and health status.”
Oexman adds, however, that you can take steps to counteract the negative impacts of the changes on sleep schedules and energy levels.
“The best way to adjust is to begin on Sunday morning,” he says. “If your work schedule starts on Monday morning, do not sleep in the extra hour. Go ahead and wake up at the new time you would typically wake up on Monday morning for work. So, if you typically wake up on Monday morning at 7 a.m., go ahead and wake up on Sunday morning at 7 a.m.”
It’s also a good idea to expose yourself to as much light early in the day as possible, because light is a key factor in maintaining a healthy wake-sleep cycle.
In addition, you should aim to get in some exercise on Sunday, which helps get your body on a schedule that will increase melatonin production — a natural sleep hormone that governs your wake-sleep cycle — at the right time. Just be sure to avoid exertion close to your bedtime when possible.
By sunset Sunday, Oexman advises taking active steps to wind down and prepare yourself for sleep.
“In the evening start decreasing your light exposure about one hour before your bed time,” he adds. “Take a warm bath our do other relaxing behaviors for the one hour prior to bed time.”
Here are five other ways to help you ease into Daylight Saving Time:
Go dark at night. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark at night, as even a nightlight or bright alarm clock light can disrupt your body’s production of melatonin.
Keep cool. Keep your bedroom chilly — optimally between 65 and 68 degrees — which promotes deep sleep.
Embrace the silence. Do what you can to eliminate all noise when sleeping. If your partner snores or you live in a neighborhood that keeps you up with traffic and other ambient sounds at night, try using at a “white noise” machine or a droning low-frequency fan. Some alarm clocks have a white noise feature like “rain” or “waterfall” and countless phone apps are available as well.
Go for sleep comfort. Make sure your bed and pillow offer the support you personally need to accommodate your body type and sleeping positions.
Consider separate bedding. If you don’t sleep alone, consider separate sheets or comforters for you and your partner. “One of the biggest causes of partner [sleep] disturbance is stolen covers!” Oexman notes. “Avoid a fight over the blankets by using your own.”
The National Sleep Foundation says to it’s a good idea not to use an e-reader in bed, watch TV, or use personal electronic devices at bedtime, because they emit “blue light,” which suppresses the release of melatonin.
Experts also suggest avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals in the hours before bed. These affect mood and can disrupt normal sleeping patterns.
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