Daylight saving time is fast approaching- a day many of us dread because it often means losing an hour of sleep.
“While it is only an hour shift, it means that suddenly our community is a little more sleep deprived then we already were,” said Michael Howell, M.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology, Medical School.
This lack of sleep can lead to dangerous situations. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) points out there has historically been a significant increase in accidents for the Monday immediately following the spring shift to daylight saving time. Absenteeism at work and school has also been known to increase in the week following the shift.
“The good news is that this provides us an opportunity to focus more our our bodies natural circadian rhythms, and ultimately sleep better in the long run,” offered Howell.
Some of the ways in which to do that aren’t all that unfamiliar and include:
- Avoid drinking coffee and other caffeinated/energy drinks in the afternoon as they may lead you to have more trouble falling asleep.
- While some people notice that they are more likely to fall asleep after having a glass of wine or beer, alcohol leads to more fragmented, less restorative sleep later in the night.
- While keeping a consistent bedtime can be a good idea, if you can’t fall asleep- stop trying to fall asleep. Get out of bed and do something relaxing, preferably not in front of a bright screen. Or if you must, use the Night Shift mode on your phone or tablet computer. This is found in settings and filters out blue light that is the primary alerting wavelength.
Some helpful steps can actually be taken right when you wake up. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, for example, get some sunlight early. If it is still dark you can use a 10,000 lux light box. Those are the same lights used by people with seasonal affective disorder. Studies have shown that getting some bright light first thing in the morning helps the body adjust to the to the new schedule change, increases alertness and improves mood.
Howell also has some lesser known advice and additional steps we can take to not only help us all get through the upcoming shift, but improve our sleeping habits overall:
- Melatonin is an over the counter vitamin supplement that taken at least an hour before bedtime can readjust your circadian rhythm so it is both easier for fall asleep at night as well as wake up in the morning. Take in small doses (1mg or less) and allow a few days or weeks for it to take affect (don’t expect it to work immediately).
- Diets rich in iron (meat, spinach, nuts, olives) especially for young women can help improve sleep. Iron deficiency can lead to sleep difficulties. Iron is critically important in helping to prevent restlessness which can interfere with a person’s ability to fall asleep at night.
“And if you are still struggling,” Howell said, “it may be time to see a sleep specialist.”