HOUSTON (March 8, 2010) – When we set our clocks ahead on Sunday, March 14, many of us won’t feel like springing forward. But, with a little planning, you can prepare your body for the loss of an hour without completely disrupting your biological clock.
“It’s a setback because we’re already living in a nation of people who are already sleep-deprived,” says Shyam Subramanian, MD, assistant professor, Pulmonary Medicine, and medical director, Harris County Hospital District’s Sleep Lab at Ben Taub General Hospital. “When we don’t get enough sleep, we accrue ’sleep debt,’ which makes us feel fatigued and a time change more difficult for the body to tolerate.”
According to Subramanian, losing one hour of sleep has a big effect on the body because sleeping patterns are not uniform. While asleep, the body cycles between REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep, followed by a very short period of REM sleep. Dreams generally occur in the REM stage of sleep. If you wake during this cycle, you’ll feel tired because your body didn’t transition back to the non-REM cycle.
Subramanian says it takes most people two to three days to adjust to the time change. But, he says we can turn our clock back mentally, by going to bed 30 minutes earlier every night one week before the change. Also, setting your alarm clock 15-30 minutes earlier one week prior to the time change will help your body adjust to the change because you’re easing in gradually.
“It’s especially important for early risers to practice going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, because people who start their days while the rest of us are sleeping are likely already sleep deprived and may feel more tired than people who sleep later,” he says.
Getting to bed earlier when the clocks spring forward is critical for your body’s natural function and response.
“Sleep is an important contributor to emotional and mental health,” Subramanian says. When you’re sleeping, the brain consolidates memory and goes through the process of repair and rejuvenation. The amount of sleep you get affects the immune system as well as mood, memory and learning.”
Subramanian offers the following sleep tips:
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. A cup of coffee or a soft drink is fine when you need a boost during the day, but caffeinated drinks can keep you from sleeping at night if you drink them too late.
If you exercise, do so in the morning or at least four hours before bedtime. Exercising when you wake up can boost your alertness, but exercising too close to bed time can keep you up.
Take a power nap. A nap is an effective way to fight sleepiness. Just limit your nap to no longer than 30 minutes to avoid sleep inertia, a condition of grogginess that makes you feel more tired after a nap.
Adults should aim for eight hours of sleep every night – children closer to 9. Lack of sleep can result in declined scholastic performance, delayed reaction time when driving and lower productivity at work.