Health Matters: Daylight Savings Time and Sleep
by Dr. Ashok P. Makadia
It is one of the most dreaded days of the year, albeit the lesser of two evils – the time change. At least when Daylight Saving Time ends, we “fall back,” giving us an extra hour of sleep rather than taking one hour away. However, setting your clock back can be just as disruptive to your body’s sleep cycle as moving it forward. I imagine many people will still find themselves waking up earlier, having more trouble falling asleep, and even waking up more during the middle of the night.
The time change only exacerbates what is already considered a public health epidemic – insufficient sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say at least thirty percent of adults fail to get enough rest each night. That is why the Fall time change may be the perfect time to make healthy sleeping a priority.
You see, sleep is tied to almost every aspect of your health. Not getting enough rest can tax your central nervous system and drain your mental abilities, leading to memory issues, trouble with concentration, and mood changes.
There are also countless ways sleep deprivation puts your physical health at risk. It can cause increased blood pressure and higher levels of chemicals linked to inflammation, both of which play a role in heart disease. It throws off your balance and coordination, making you more prone to falls. It can even lead to weight gain as it throws off the balance of chemicals that signal to your brain the “I’m full” feeling.
Potentially worst of all is how a lack of rest can weaken your immune system. While you sleep, your body is producing protective, infection fighting substances that help defend against viruses like those that cause the flu and yes, even COVID-19. Without the needed down time, your immune system doesn’t have a chance to build up that protection, meaning you’re more likely to get sick.
Chronic Sleep Debt
Unfortunately, one hour of extra sleep isn’t enough to erase a chronic sleep debt. But perhaps this time change is the perfect opportunity for sleep-deprived adults to adopt an earlier bedtime and other simple changes that can leave them feeling fully rested and refreshed.
For instance, we have all been told to turn off electronics well before trying to go to sleep, due to the way blue light triggers alertness. It’s not an easy ask for a population so fond of our phones.
A more realistic option may be to invest in blue light glasses to help limit the effects. Temperature is another crucial component of ensuring quality sleep. Our bodies are programmed to cool down in the evening, so turning the thermostat down may signal to your body that it’s time for bed. A cooling bedding can also help to maintain a lower body temperature throughout the night, improving both comfort and sleep quality.
Other ways you can uphold a healthy sleep schedule include limiting daytime naps, keeping a consistent bedtime routine, avoiding nighttime snacking and caffeine, and exercising regularly (but not right before it’s time to go to sleep).
It’s also important to know when to contact your doctor. We all have the occasional sleepless night, but if you’re consistently having problems sleeping and find yourself fighting daytime fatigue regularly, there may be a bigger issue depriving you from your rest. We can evaluate for underlying health conditions and treat the barriers preventing you from enjoying the restful sleep you deserve.
*Dr. Ashok Makadia is a pulmonologist and the Medical Director of the Mercy Health – Amherst Sleep Center, specializing in sleep medicine. He received his medical degree from B.J. Medical College and has been in practice for more than twenty years.