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Vanderbilt sleep experts offer tips to adjust to this weekend’s time change

Nov. 1, 2016, 8:25 AM

(iStockphoto)
(iStockphoto)

When daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, we set clocks back one hour, and essentially gain an extra hour of sleep—but that extra hour of sleep comes at the price of early evening darkness.

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center sleep specialist confirms what a lot of us already know—this change in sleep schedule can cause a groggy and unsettled feeling come Monday, especially with our tendency to shift sleep patterns on the weekends.

“Most people enjoy the extra hour of sleep they get when daylight saving time ends, especially because we tend to delay sleep on weekends and the ability to sleep in on Monday morning benefits us,” said Raghu Upender, M.D., medical director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center.

“However, because it gets darker sooner in the evening, some people may experience more fatigue on their commute home.”

But there are ways to fight the sluggish feeling of being out of sync. Getting extra exposure to sunlight can help reset the biological clock and cope with the darker evenings. Upender’s best advice for resetting the internal clock is to get light exposure in the morning.

“It doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. Open the curtains and turn on all the bright lights in your house, or get outside for a walk,” he said.

He says that light perception through the eye’s retina regulates the hormone melatonin, which controls the sleep-wake cycle, among other functions. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, while darkness encourages it.

“There are direct neural pathways from the eye to the brain structures that help re-sync the biological clock. Daylight helps us be active and productive,” Upender said.

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.

Most people adjust within a few weeks, especially with extra sunlight exposure during the day. In severe cases, sometimes called seasonal affective disorder, doctors may prescribe light therapy or melatonin hormone supplements.

Beth Malow, M.D., M.S., chief of Vanderbilt’s Division of Sleep Disorders, said trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or feeling tired during the day may indicate a sleep disorder.

“I encourage people to discuss symptoms with their health care provider, as sleep disorders are highly treatable and can make a big difference in our health and daytime functioning,” Malow 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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