March 7, 2013

Vanderbilt sleep expert offers daylight saving survival tips

Moving clocks forward one hour in the spring means more daylight in the evenings, but that glorious after-work sunshine comes at a price – a horrible groggy feeling on Monday morning.

Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 10, essentially erasing an hour of sleep. That results in a population with fatigue, cognitive slowing, mood problems, increased risk of errors and slower reaction times. Studies have shown an increase in heart attacks, traffic accidents and workplace injuries in the week following the shift to daylight saving time.

Raghu Upender, M.D., medical director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center, says the familiar “Monday morning blues” are especially heightened after daylight saving time.

“The feeling of fatigue is related to misalignment of our internal circadian rhythms to the external environment,” he said. “We typically shift the sleep schedule on weekends anyway, by staying up later and waking up later than our normal time. When we start playing around with our sleep schedule, we’re not allowing our clock to reset at its usual time. On Monday mornings, your internal clock is saying ‘this is still sleep time, what are you doing waking up so early?’”

Most people only need a day or two to adjust to the time shift, but some can take as long as a week. Upender has three recommendations to reduce the fatigue effects of daylight saving time.

  1. Plan for it.  “Try to go to bed earlier – maybe 15 minutes earlier each day in the week prior to the time change. Then when it comes to the weekend, your internal clock is already shifted to an earlier sleep and wake-up time,” Upender said.
  2. Stick to your normal weekday bedtime and wake time. This keeps the internal clock in its typical rhythm.
  3. Expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. “The sun is a very potent synchronizer,” Upender said. “There are direct neural pathways for light that enters the retina to a structure in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which syncs the clock every day.”

Additional recommendations for good sleep hygiene year round:

  • 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.