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Sleep specialist offers tips to deal with spring daylight saving time

Mar. 9, 2017, 11:43 AM

(iStockphoto)

Daylight saving time brings extra sunlight in the evenings, but many have a hard time adjusting to losing an hour of sleep.

This year, daylight saving time begins on Sunday March 12, and Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center specialist Kelly Brown, M.D., says being proactive and changing your routine before Sunday can alleviate the lingering tiredness associated with the time change.

“You wouldn’t think moving the clock an hour would make much of a difference, but it really can. Especially for night owls and people with underlying sleep disorders, it can be a tough transition,” Brown said.

Brown’s top tip for easing the daylight saving time shift is to stick to your normal weekday sleep schedule on the weekend.

“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,” Brown said. “Mondays are already hard when you shift your sleep schedule on the weekends, and the time change makes it even harder.”

A lack of sleep has effects on attention and mood and can cause a systemic inflammatory response. Studies have shown decreased vigilance following daylight saving time, resulting in increased traffic accidents and workplace injuries. Heart attacks also increase in the three days following the time change.

It usually takes just a day or two to feel normal again, but some people can require up to two weeks to make the transition. The sleep/wake cycle is controlled by the body’s internal clock, also known as circadian rhythm. There is a direct pathway from the eye to the part of the brain that regulates melatonin, the sleep hormone. Getting sunlight in the morning and avoiding bright lights in the evening can help with the transition.

Brown suggests limiting use of electronics before going to bed.

“When light hits the retina, melatonin production is stopped. Light is the most powerful way to control the internal clock,” Brown said. “Lights from electronics like TV and computers are mainly blue light, and evening TV and computer use can trick the brain to think that it is morning and shut down the evening melatonin production. This can make it very hard to fall asleep.”

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.”

Tips to ease the daylight saving time transition:

    • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. This eases your body into the time change and makes the transition less abrupt.
    • Dim the lights earlier on nights leading up to the time change. Avoid bright light in the evening, especially from computer and TV screens.
    • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
    • Have a calming bedtime routine, such as reading or taking a bath.
    • Keep the bedroom cool and dark.
    • Don’t stay up late and sleep in on the weekend. Stick to your usual weekday schedule.
    • Get morning exercise in the sunlight on the weekend of the time change.
    • Eat an early breakfast and dinner on the weekend before, and eat a good breakfast the Monday morning after the time change

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