Monday Medical: Fall back soon, get extra z’s year-round
October 21, 2018
The end of daylight saving time — and the return of that extra hour of sleep — will be here soon. Which makes it a good time to take a look at your sleep habits.
But first consider how our bodies know to sleep, which is driven by two processes.
"In one process, a chemical called adenosine builds up in the brain while we're awake and after about 14 to 16 hours, the buildup helps signal it's time to sleep," said Dr. Brent Peters, medical director of sleep medicine at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. "Complementary to that is our circadian rhythm that, through natural light cycles, aligns our sleep-wake schedule with the rotation of the earth."
When daylight saving time strikes, it's similar to traveling somewhere with a one-hour time difference. And for every one-hour time difference, it can take three to five days to adjust.
"Your circadian rhythm actually signals a lot of different things, such as GI processes and the release of various hormones," Peters said. "You can't move it more than an hour every five days."
Every person's natural circadian rhythm is genetically determined, but if it gets in the way of a healthy life — for instance, the night owl who struggles to get to work on time — there are methods to slowly try to change it.
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With daylight saving time changes, it's most difficult for people to lose an hour during the spring forward in March. Studies have shown a slight increase in traffic accidents and heart attacks on the Monday after clocks are turned forward.
When falling back in November, that trend is reversed. But don't just settle for an extra hour of sleep one night: Use the change to take stock of your sleep habits. Peters recommends following these basic rules for getting the sleep you need.
Create a buffer
Don't try to wrap up an email or catch up on social media right before bed. The blue light from your screen suppresses the sleep-inducing chemical melatonin, while doing work increases stress.
"Set a buffer of an hour or two from when you finish doing and when you want to be asleep," Peters said. "You shouldn't be doing your work or trying to finish tasks right before bed. If someone complains about insomnia, this step should be one of their top priorities."
Stick to a schedule
Wake up and fall asleep at about the same time, give or take thirty minutes, every day. Even on the weekends.
Strive for eight hours of rest
Five or six hours isn't enough, despite what people may think. "There's a big disconnect between what we need and what we think we need," Peters said.
Think like a bear
Peters encourages his patients to make the bedroom like a den where a bear would hibernate — cool, dark, quiet and safe.
Don't smoke, and have that last cup of coffee by midafternoon. It's also best to avoid alcohol before bed, as it can suppress quality sleep.
Commit to good sleep
Practice your good sleep habits every day of the year.
"You can't use daylight saving time as a one-off," Peters said. "You should be taking these steps year-round."
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.