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Vanderbilt sleep experts offer tips to manage end of Daylight Saving Time

Oct. 31, 2013, 8:00 AM


When daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3, that extra hour of sleep comes at the price of early evening darkness.

As we set clocks back one hour, we essentially gain an extra hour of sleep. But a Vanderbilt University Medical Center sleep specialist confirms what a lot of us already know—this change in sleep schedule can still cause a groggy and unsettled feeling come Monday morning, especially with our tendency to shift sleep patterns on the weekends.

“When we start playing around with our schedule, or have an irregular schedule staying up on weekends, we’re not allowing our clock to reset at its usual time,” said Raghu Upender, M.D., medical director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center.

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 blasting 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 tracks from the eye to the brain structures that help sync the biological clock. This comes from our early days as humans when our only cues were the sun. Daylight hours were the times of activity and productivity,” 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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