How Does Daylight Savings Affect Sleep?

Daylight savings time (DST) ended this past weekend, which meant we “fell back” an hour to standard time and gained an extra hour on Sunday. (I hope no one missed anything due to the time change.) But are the time changes merely affecting the daylight hours as the name implies? Or does it affect more things than we realize? Falling back an hour at 2 AM on Sunday usually means getting an extra hour of sleep, which is what everyone needs these days. However, my body still decided to wake up after my typical 8 hours of rest rather than sleeping in. I can only imagine parents’ agony waking up to their toddlers at crack of dawn because of their internal body clocks – sorry!

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My body is still trying to adjust to the time change this week, which meant waking up WAY before my alarm clock for work and wanting to go to bed before 8pm. Are you one of the fortunate souls that isn’t affected by DST? Or are you more like me, where your body needs time to adjust?

For most individuals without sleep disorders, their bodies can adapt to slight time changes easier and usually don’t have a problem getting a full night of rest. But for individuals with sleeping disorders or those who have poor sleep quality, these time changes can be difficult to adjust to and exacerbate underlying issues, especially when we go back to DST and lose an hour of sleep. (I am NOT looking forward to losing an hour in March!)

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Many individuals may experience one or more of these symptoms which can impact their sleep quality, including excessive daytime sleepiness, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, snoring or episodes of stopped breathing while sleeping, or an urge to move your legs at rest or uncomfortable feeling in legs at night. Some of these symptoms may translate into a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and sleepwalking.

Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can affect many things, in addition to just feeling groggy and sluggish. Some may feel hungrier when tired, hoping a snack will give a needed energy boost. Others may make poor, unsound decisions or lose focus. While coffee and caffeine may give you a temporary fix of energy, it can’t fix other issues associated with sleep deprivation, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, increased risk of chronic diseases and depression. It may also affect your productivity at work and ability to drive.

As someone who suffers from a sleep disorder, having good quality sleep is crucial for me. Without it, I’m crankier, less productive, get more headaches and increases my likelihood of migraines. Growing up my parents thought being sleepy was normal and attributed it to school, stress and being car sick (because I would fall asleep in the car EVERY time). However, I didn’t outgrow this sleeping spell even after graduating college and had a regular work schedule. I caught myself at work starting to nod off during an education appointment with a patient. I was still talking (and I’m pretty sure I was coherent) but my brain started to nod off. Who knew I could fall asleep while talking? This wasn’t the only reason for me to see the sleep doctor – I already had a number of times where I’d started nodding off while on my commutes both directions. Every method known to keep awake while driving I’ve tried – slapping my face, drinking water, snacking, chewing gum, windows open, and cranking up the music. Nothing worked, even if I slept well the night before.

Thanks to my sleep medicine doctor, my life has significantly improved. I finally feel more normal and have more energy to last the day. My driving is much safer too!

While I can go on and on about how important sleep is, here are some interesting facts about catching the zzz’s!

  • How sleep promotes weight loss:
    • REM sleep is when your metabolism is at its highest and fastest
    • Deep sleep is when human growth hormone is released and tells the body how to break down fat into energy
  • Poor sleep (<6 hours) can lead to:
    • Poor blood circulation which causes wrinkles, thin hair, puffy eyes, dark circles and hair loss – yikes!
    • Increase in insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) and cortisol (stress hormone) production, which increases calories stored as fat, especially in the abdomen.
      • Disrupted and short sleeping periods can also increase these 2 hormones.
    • Increase in appetite due to increasing levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and decreasing levels of leptin (the satiety/fullness hormone).
      • When sleep deprived, a person is more likely consume an extra 221 calories/day than when they are well-rested, which adds up to an extra 1500 calories per week!)
      • Extra calories were “thought to help cover energy cost of staying awake longer “.
    • The need for serotonin (“happy” hormone) increases with fatigue, so your body will naturally start craving fat, sweets and starchy foods.
      • Your brain runs primarily on carbohydrates, so when it needs energy the first intuition is to crave more carbs!
        • Complex carbohydrates contain fiber which helps to slowly release energy and avoid the infamous sugar high slump.
      • 40% of US adults sleep less than 7 hours/night (strongly linked to increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome).
        • Increased risk in developing cardiovascular disease because the heart pumps harder and faster when awake.

But more sleep is not always better… Oversleeping (12-20 hours/day) can lead to:

  • Decrease in cognition and increase in memory problems
  • Increased anxiety and depression, more mood issues
  • Increased inflammation and body pain
  • Increased risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of all-cause mortality

Many studies have linked sleep deprivation to weight issues and developing chronic illnesses. However, by establishing a better sleep routine, it can be the first step towards improving your quality of life.

Here’s what you can do to help adjusting to standard time (which can take about a week):

  • Get in as much natural light as you can once the sun rises, especially natural sunlight if available
  • Exercise earlier in the day to help get a boost in energy and endorphins
  • Minimize as much artificial light after the sun sets to minimize brain stimulation
  • Take extra care if you are sensitive to stimulants and relaxants, especially caffeine
  • Limit alcohol intake as it can affect your ability to get into deep sleep, which is needed to help body rest and feel refreshed when you wake up

Here are some general guidelines to getting overall better-quality sleep:

  • Be consistent in going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on days off!
  • Aim for 15 minutes of sun exposure in the morning to help regulate production of melatonin and your biological clock
  • Switch to decaffeinated fluids after 2pm
  • Avoid exercise within 2-4 hours of going to bed
  • Avoid alcohol within 3 hours of going to sleep
  • Avoid screens (yes, cellphone too) for 1 hour before going to sleep
  • Keep bedroom quiet, dark and cool
  • Limit eating and drinking to small quantities 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up to do something relaxing (reading, doing a puzzle) until you feel sleepy again.

Keep in mind, it takes time to build healthy habits! If the list feels overwhelming, start by picking one of the habits to work on first before adding on the rest. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to a great night’s rest!

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If you have any concerns regarding your sleep, please make an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Please note: This article is meant for informative purposes and not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your primary care provider for specific recommendations.

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