Spring forward, fall back…
Even though the clocks change by only an hour during Daylight Savings Time, the effects are noticeable to many when they alter their sleep routine. This is especially true in the spring when people lose an hour of the day and that hour is often subtracted from time spent sleeping. Even slight adjustments in your sleep cycle can leave you feeling like you have a mild case of jet lag. Your body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) may be thrown off course, which can affect how much sleep-inducing melatonin is released and when.
Within a few days, you should adjust to the new time schedule naturally as your circadian rhythm catches up to your new reality.
If you have the foresight to plan ahead, it helps to prepare for losing that hour of sleep by going to bed a bit earlier than usual each night in the days leading up to the time change. If you don’t, at least turn in earlier on the night of the time change to try to prepare your body for the adjustment.
To help your brain and body make the shift more quickly, it also helps to sleep in for an extra half hour on the Sunday morning after the clocks change and expose yourself to sunlight early in the morning. If it’s difficult to get natural sunlight in the morning where you live – hello Flathead gray – consider using a lightbox or dawn simulator to enhance mental and physical alertness. Think of this as tricking your internal clock into believing that it’s sunny outside and it’s time to get moving. As the weeks progress, this will become less of an issue as the days gain more hours of natural light.
Interestingly enough, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) suggests that the US should eliminate seasonal time changes in favor of a national, fixed, year-round time. Current evidence best supports the adoption of year-round standard time, which aligns best with human circadian biology and provides distinct benefits for public health and safety. What do you think?
Here are a few tips to help you adjust to your new sleep cycle:
- Start preparing a few days early. About a week before “springing forward,” Dr. Anthony recommends that you start going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier than your usual bedtime. Your body needs that bit of extra time to make up for the lost hour. Likewise, start waking up a few minutes earlier when you “fall forward” to get accustomed to the upcoming new morning routine.
- Stick to your schedule. Be consistent with eating, social, bed, and exercise times during the transition to Daylight Saving Time. Exposing yourself to the bright light in the morning may also help you adjust.
- Don’t take long naps. Shutting your eyes midday is tempting, especially if you’re feeling sluggish. But avoiding naps is key for adjusting to the time change, as long daytime naps could make it harder for you to get a full night’s sleep. If you must rest your eyes and body with a power nap, limit them to no longer than 20 minutes.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol. Put down the coffee and caffeinated beverages four to six hours before bedtime. Alcohol also prohibits you from getting quality sleep, so avoid it late at night.
Dr. Anthony reminds her patients that bedtime routines aren’t just for kids! It’s also important for adults to establish good sleep hygiene habits.
- Before bed, slow your body down. Raising your body’s core temperature can make it harder to sleep, so avoid heavy workouts within a few hours of bedtime. A cool room also can help you set the stage for dreamtime. Perhaps you can close the heater vents in your bedroom to encourage snuggling and a good night’s sleep.
- Put your phone, computer or tablet away. Turn off the television and pick up a relaxing book (skip the horror genre). The high-intensity light from electronics stimulates your brain and hinders melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness. Say no to screentime about an hour before you rest your eyes.
- Staying consistent with the amount of sleep you get each night helps, too — and that includes weekends. “Sleeping in on weekends may sound like a good idea, but it can disrupt your sleep cycle,” Dr. Anthony says.
- Last but not least, use the bed only for sleeping. Don’t do late-night office work and avoid studying under the covers. Make your bed and bedroom your sleepy-time sanctuary. “Your mind adjusts to the habit of getting into bed for sleep,” she says.
Sleep tight, everyone!
Dr. Anthony is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM). As a Diplomate, Dr. Anthony combines her dental care knowledge with sleep medicine to optimize a patient’s well-being. After all, sleep is one of the most important rejuvenating needs for the mind and body. The ABDSM credential is widely recognized as the gold standard for excellence in dental sleep medicine.
If you are experiencing trouble with sleep routines or discomfort with sleep apnea equipment, she may be able to help you. Contact Dr. Anthony’s office to schedule an appointment, please contact Leslie B. Anthony, DMD today.