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Take a walk in the sun to ease time change woes, says Vanderbilt sleep expert

Oct. 30, 2014, 9:58 AM

(iStockphoto)
(iStockphoto)

Daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 2. As clocks turn back one hour, we gain an hour of sleep but often still feel groggy and sluggish.

Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center specialist Kelly Brown, M.D., says this change in sleep schedule is exacerbated by our tendency to alter our sleep patterns on the weekends anyway.

“A lot of people like to stay up late on the weekend and then sleep in, but it’s important to stick to your regular schedule. Mondays are already hard when you shift your sleep schedule on the weekends, and the time change makes it even harder,” Brown said.

Instead of sleeping for that extra hour on Sunday, Brown recommends using the time to go for a morning walk.

“Light is the most powerful way to control the internal clock. Getting sun exposure in the morning helps us feel more awake, and avoiding light at night, especially blue light from electronics, helps us fall asleep,” Brown said.

Light travels a direct pathway through the eye’s retina and regulates the hormone melatonin, which controls the sleep-wake cycle, among other functions. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, while darkness encourages it. This explains why we often feel more tired or groggy in the fall and winter months, when days are shorter and there are fewer hours of sunlight.

It usually takes just a day or two to feel normal again after changing clocks, but some people can require up to two weeks to make the transition. If the post-time change grogginess continues for more than two weeks, Brown says a sleep specialist may be able to help.

“It’s very important to note that if you are feeling sleepy during the day or having difficulty falling or staying asleep, you should talk to your primary care provider and consider an evaluation by a sleep physician. Sleep disorders are highly treatable and their treatment can make a dramatic change in your health and daytime functioning,” Brown said.

Additional recommendations for good sleep:

  • Establish a relaxing pre-sleep ritual, such as taking a bath, reading or listening to calm music.
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid the bright lights and stimulation of TVs, computers and other electronics before bed.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol and caffeine before bed.
  • Exercise earlier in the day, not right before bed.
  • Keep the same bedtime and wake time each day, even on weekends.

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