As clocks march ahead of time on March 10, 2019 and daylight saving time begins, there is a lot of anxiety around losing the hour of sleep and how to adjust to this change.
Usually an hour seems like an insignificant amount of time but considering the global epidemic of our sleep deprived society, even this minimal loss causes many important problems. There are serious health repercussions of this forcible shift in the body clock.
Springing forward is usually harder that falling backward. Why is this so?
People’s natural internal body clock and daily rhythms are slightly longer than 24 hours and every day, so we have a tendency to delay our sleep schedules. Thus, “springing forward” is going against that natural rhythm. It is like a mild case of jet lag caused by traveling east when we lose time and have a hard time falling asleep at an earlier hour.
We co-lead a sleep evaluation center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Childrens’ Hospital of Pittsburgh and take care of patients with different kinds of sleep disorders. We regularly see patients who are dealing with the effects of sleep loss. We fully understand what’s going on with them because of our in-depth understanding of how the sleep-wake processes work.
Consequences of sleep loss vary
Many studies have now demonstrated that there is an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure associated with sleep deprivation. Workplace injuries increase and so do automobile accidents. Adolescents, of course, find it harder to wake up in time to get to school.
Is there something we can do to deal with this loss of sleep and change of body clock timing?
Of course. The first step to dealing with this is increasing awareness and using the power of knowledge to combat this issue. Here are some quick tips to prepare yourself for the upcoming weekend.
- Do not start with a “sleep debt.” Ensure that you and your child get adequate sleep on a regular basis in the weeks leading up to the time change each year. Most adults need anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep daily to perform adequately. Children have varying requirements for sleep depending on their age.
- Prepare for the time change. Start going to bed or putting your kids to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night in the week preceding the time change. Also, move your wake timing during the week as this will help you fall asleep earlier. Aim for waking up an hour earlier on the Saturday before the time change.
- Use light to your advantage. Light is the strongest cue that helps adjusts our internal body clock. When possible, expose yourself to bright light early in the morning upon awakening. If you live somewhere where natural light may be limited in the morning after clocks change, use artificial bright lights to signal to your body clock to wake up earlier. As the season progresses, this will be less of an issue as the sun rises earlier in the day. Conversely, at night, minimize exposure to bright light, especially the blue light emitting from screens of electronic media. Turn off electronics even earlier than the usual recommended duration of one to two hours before bedtime. In some places, it might be helpful to have room-darkening curtains in the bedroom depending on how much sunlight that room gets at bedtime.