We are getting ready to spring forward this weekend, but you may not feel an extra spring in your step after Sunday.
Dr. Mary Ellen Wells is the Program Director of the Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science Program at UNC in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She knows the importance of sleep for not just your energy levels, but for your entire well-being.
And while one hour may not sound like a lot of sleep lost, that small 60 minutes can have big impacts on your health.
“Research shows that the morning after, many people will report up to forty minutes of less sleep. And that has profound effects. There’s medical research that shows that there’s upticks in heart issues, in hospital stays and accidents, many different things all because of this sleep loss in March,” says Dr. Wells.
Your circadian rhythm is your brain’s internal clock. It regulates when you should sleep and when you should be awake. Dr. Wells stresses that the sudden time change associated with the beginning or end of Daylight Saving Time can have major implications to your body’s rhythm.
“In our brain, we have a clock, and the clock entrains to the solar light and day. And it also entrains to other cues such as our social cues. When we go to work and when we go to bed. And so with the solar light and day, it helps our body to understand when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to be asleep. And the sunlight does that by allowing our body to produce melatonin. And when it produces melatonin, when there is no sunlight or the sun is going down, that’s when it signals to our body that it’s time to go to sleep.”
We are all used to the bright lights in our homes and the bright screens on our phones, but that can adversely impact our sleep.
“In modern days when we have our devices and we have lights, all of those things are going to suppress melatonin in our brains. And that sends the opposite signal-that it’s time to be awake when it’s in fact time to be asleep.”
Dr. Wells states that you can start to adjust to the time change a few days in advance in both the spring and fall by altering your bedtime.
“So what that means is every night you can start waking up about fifteen or twenty minutes earlier than usual. So if you do this just in small chunks, it’s definitely going to lessen the impact and help you move into that new rhythm.”
It is important to practice good sleep hygiene on a regular basis to keep your mind sound and your body healthy. That starts with a consistent bedtime routine and enjoying the sunshine.
“We can spend more time outdoors, especially in the morning, and increase the amount of sunlight that we get exposed to. And cut back on the naps. Avoid alcohol before bed. Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoons, or at least after lunchtime,” says Dr. Wells.
It is hard for us to turn off the lights and put down our devices. But creating a peaceful environment before you go to sleep can make all the difference.
“The best thing that I can recommend is create a sleeping environment that is conducive to sleep. So you want it cool, dark, quiet and you want to get rid of every distraction in the room because those are our sleep stealers. So the dings on the phone, the alarm clocks with the bright numbers, anything that is going to disrupt you.”
Dr. Wells also encourages you to relax before you call it a night. That can be anything from a warm bath to reading, or just taking some quiet time for yourself. She discourages you to eat large or spicy meals before bed, and also says to save the exercise for earlier in the day.
Once your head hits the pillow, you go through multiple sleep stages. The two main stages are REM and non-REM sleep. Napping can disrupt your sleep cycles. So if you must take a nap, keep it short and take it early.
“Set your alarm for twenty minutes, no more than thirty minutes. Because what you don’t want is to nap long enough that you’re going to cycle through all of your stages of sleep and get into REM sleep and then that is really going to disrupt your sleep at night,” says Dr. Wells.
And if that nap still does not help and you still notice you are exhausted after making changes to your habits, Dr. Wells says it may be time to take the next step.
“There is a clear connection between sleep disorders and other health problems. So, if you’re not getting enough sleep and you are not feeling well during the day, and you’ve tried everything to try and improve this, then it’s probably time to seek the opinion of a doctor.”
Make your sleep habits a priority not just this weekend, but in future as well. You will be glad you did.