Reflecting on the importance of sleep as Daylight Saving Time ends Sunday

National News

Plenty of sleep. That is one thing we all desperately need but cannot seem to get enough of these days, especially when the time changes.

But did you know that less sleep actually leads to more health consequences? 

Dr. Mary Ellen Wells is an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and is the program director of the Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science Program.

Wells says that a lack of sleep is linked to many different issues. Some of those issues include functional cognitive impairment, memory issues, daytime sleepiness, vehicle accidents, obesity and even irritability. 

“Sleep is one of the key pillars of optimal health. It’s just as important as the air we breathe, the food we eat, and arguably it is one of the most important predictors of our own health that we can change. And what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, nearly every body system is affected by a lack of sleep. And those effects compound when we don’t get the sleep we need night after night. We accumulate what’s called sleep debt, and that debt needs to be repaid,” Wells said.  

While the exact amount of sleep one needs a night is based on the individual, there are some signs you can watch for to see if you are getting the right amount of sleep. 

“So the key is how you feel during the day can help you determine if you’re getting enough sleep at night. And the main takeaway with that is how do you know if you’re getting enough sleep at night? And if you’re not feeling at your best during the day, and you’re having, for example, to set an alarm most days of the week to get up, you have to have that morning cup of coffee just to get going — then there’s a pretty good chance you’re not getting the amount of sleep that you need,” Wells said.

One term to remember when you are talking about sleep is circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is basically your own body clock and how your body goes from sleep to wake. 

There are many cues that tip-off our body on whether we should be asleep or awake. Including things like social cues and work schedules. But there is one important cue you may not be thinking of. 

“The most important is the solar light. And the solar light, what that does is it signals to your brain, to your body, that it’s time to be awake. And that’s why it’s important to get the solar light early in the day. And then at night, that’s when you want to keep the lights down, keep the blue lights out and the TV off. So that you’re going to suppress the drive to stay awake,” said Wells. 

Dealing with the time change is never easy but falling back is much easier than springing forward. 

“In the spring, you do see the increases in motor vehicle accidents and other issues around that time loss. But in the fall, there’s actually a decrease with that as opposed to the spring. So, the fall really isn’t quite as bad as the spring.” 

Wells said there is a reason that losing the hour of sleep in the spring is much more difficult than the fall transition. 

“And the reason is because our body clock is actually slightly longer than 24 hours, so we are able to adjust a bit easier to that,” Wells said. “And what’s important for people to remember is just keep your consistent sleep schedule. That’s what’s most important. You don’t have to change your hours with this time of the year.” 

She encourages you to keep the same schedule you have but also make sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep. A good reminder to make sure you keep consistent and adequate sleep in your forecast. 

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