- - Friday, March 6, 2015

This year, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is slated to arrive a week early — Sunday, March 8th – forcing most of nation (with exception to Hawaii and some areas of Arizona) to “spring forward” by advancing our clocks one hour. Admittedly, with a winter that has “frosted” millions of people with managing brutal temperatures and record breaking snow, I join the folks who welcome signs of spring. On the other hand, getting enough sleep is challenging enough as it is for most of us and research shows that losing one hour – just 60 minutes – can affect our health.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Daylight Saving Time

This coming Sunday, March 8th at 2 a.m. we “spring forward” by shifting our clocks one hour ahead. In doing so, we move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening and sunrise and sunset will occur one hour later. It can take days — and for some it can take up to two weeks or more — to adjust to this time change.

What is the science behind this? The body has an internal clock that determines sleep/wake cycles. This is controlled by melatonin, a hormone in the brain that makes us sleepy. The hormone is released when it is dark, and suppressed when our retinas (located in our eyes) detect “light.” And boy was Mother Nature clever. During the darkness of the night, we want to sleep, and that’s when melatonin levels are at their highest. On the other hand, during the brightness of the day, we want to be awake, and that is when levels are at their lowest.

What can happen when we are sleep deprived?

Grouchiness, irritability, headaches, difficulty concentrating.

Increased appetite and poor decision-making when it comes to what we eat. This is the result of spiked levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin. One study showed that on average we consume 600 additional calories a day! And boy-oh-boy, that can pack on the pounds quickly.

Decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to germs. At night is when the immune system recharges and reboots, like a computer. If we do not provide adequate time for this, our defenses are not as strong to fight off germs.

Daytime somnolence/drowsiness can lead to an increased number of motor vehicle accidents or mistakes at work.

What are some tips to ease the transition?

Ease into the change. Go to bed 15-30 minutes early on Friday and spring the clock forward Saturday morning. This will allow our little ones and us to adjust lunch, dinner, and bedtime so that come Monday morning, we are good to go.

Take a moment to take stock of and clean up our sleep hygiene. Implementing calming routines and rituals help us “get in the mood” to fall asleep. They may include reading, praying, or warm baths; similar to how we get a baby to sleep. Some things (should) never change.

Avoid caffeine after 12 pm

Encourage our melatonin levels to rise. Artificial lights can suppress our sleep hormone. So let’s make sure to unplug and power down our televisions, computer screens, smart phones, and tablets at least thirty minutes before going to sleep.

Avoid staying up late this weekend

Exercise during the day or at least three hours before going to sleep

Research also suggests that the clock shift leaves many without early morning sunlight, which perhaps promotes winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Utilizing light that mimics sunshine in the early morning has been found effective. If you think you or someone you love is dealing with SAD, talk with your physician.

Additionally, at this time of year, we are reminded to take the time to change the batteries in our smoke detectors. Although more than 90 percent of homes in the United States are equipped with this life-saving piece of technology, approximately one-third of smoke detectors have missing or dead batteries!

Sleep is a mystery, and a beautiful one at that. What we do know is that good quality sleep keeps us smiling, protects our memory and waistlines, and helps us fight off infections and injury. So begin to prepare now. Sleep tight and sweet dreams!

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