Tips for adjusting to daylight saving time

very fall, Americans love the idea of gaining an extra hour when daylight saving time ends. But if you’re already one of the millions of Americans who is sleep deprived, “falling back” an hour doesn’t mean you’re gaining sleep. Dr. Aparajitha Verma, a sleep neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, answers some of the most common questions about how to practice good sleep hygiene before (and after) November 2 rolls around.

What are the pros and cons of gaining an hour on Sunday from a health standpoint?

Pro – In theory, daylight saving time gives us the opportunity, at least twice a year, to practice good sleep habits that we should try to use year round. You should sleep in a quiet and dark environment and set the thermostat at a slightly cooler temperature; don’t allow pets in the bed; no reading, eating or watching TV in bed; don’t watch the clock; set a “wind down” time prior to going to bed; don’t take over-the-counter sleep aids and avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime, as these can disrupt sleep. Instead, try drinking warm teas or milk to increase your body temperature, which helps induce and sustain sleep; and exercise is good for sleep, but not within two hours of going to sleep.

Con – You may think you’re gaining an hour, but only a minority of people actually use that extra hour for catching Zs. Instead, the one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can actually negatively affect sleep patterns. People wake up earlier, have more trouble falling asleep, and are more likely to wake up during the night. If you’re already sleep deprived (also known as a voluntary short sleeper) and regularly get less than seven hours a night, or an early riser (also known as a lark), you’ll probably have the most trouble adjusting to the new schedule.  




What effects might this time change have on our health?

There are the obvious problems such as increased fatigue level, decreased productivity at work, and increased risk of accidents due to sleepy drivers. But disrupted sleep patterns can lead to more serious sleep problems. More than 70 million people in the United States are already affected by some kind of sleep disorder. Add the time change, and it can cause serious health and lifestyle issues.

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People need to make sure they are well rested before the time change. One way to do that is to start changing your sleep habits days before the time change. You can get up an hour earlier and go to sleep an hour earlier. You can also take a short nap in the afternoon on Sunday if you need it, but not within a few hours of your regular bedtime. Napping too close to bedtime can disrupt nighttime sleep.

Are there positive health effects on our body?

Each of us experiences physical, mental, and behavioral changes during the course of a day. These are called circadian rhythms. The daily cycle of light and dark keep them on a 24-hour cycle. Sleep is a component of circadian rhythms. When we lose an hour every spring, it can take days to get your circadian rhythms back on track. But in the fall, all it usually takes is one or two nights. Regular exercise, preferably at the same time each day, may help get your sleep cycle back on track. Going to bed and getting up on a schedule can help. Caffeine and alcohol intake in moderation is always recommended. And giving into brief afternoon nap during the week may be a pleasant and relaxing way to restore lost sleep.

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