The upcoming shift from Daylight Saving Time (DST) forces us to move our clocks back one hour. And while you will be “gaining” an hour in sleep, this action may throw off your circadian rhythm – your internal clock. According to recent research, disturbing a person’s circadian rhythm by even one hour is a dramatic event with potential health consequences.
Add to this, “COVIDsomina” is impacting millions, as doctors report they’re seeing an influx in patients with disrupted sleep patterns linked to the challenges and changes in daily routines during the pandemic.
Adjusting to changes in sleep patterns is hard on your body, especially because your internal clock keeps on ticking regardless of other changes or daylight saving time.
Your 24-hour internal clock, known as a circadian rhythm, determines your sleep and wake cycle and is influenced by light and darkness. It plays a vital role in virtually all systems of your body and affects overall wellbeing, influencing sleep patterns as well hormones, body temperature, eating habits, mental health, immunity and protection against diseases and illnesses.
Unfortunately, Daylight Saving Time does not coincide or sync with your body’s circadian rhythm. Springing forward or falling backward with a one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can affect sleep for several days and, in some cases, a couple of weeks—due to the effects of light and darkness. Consequently, millions of American adults and children can struggle to adjust. The bottom line is that we must plan to have (and maintain) quality sleep habits.
CIRCADIAN RYTHM DISORDER
Your body runs on your internal clock, causing you to feel sleepier at night and more awake and alert during the day. Today, due to COVID-19 challenges and too, DST time shifts, more people are reporting disturbances to their natural circadian clock.
If you are having issues with falling asleep or waking-up when you need to, you may be experiencing a circadian rhythm disorder. This is when your biological clock is out of sync with your environment and impacts your daily activities. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Erratic Sleep Schedule
- Waking-up during the night
- Falling asleep on weekends but not weekdays
- Not feeling refreshed after sleeping
Too, chronic loss of sleep (sleep deprivation) makes it harder for your circadian rhythm to function optimally, which impairs your body’s overall functions. And, while circadian rhythm sleep disorders are not always problematic, speak to your doctor if these symptoms have become a problem for you.
Prevention—Protecting Your Circadian Rhythm
Your brain receives signals based on your environment and activates certain hormones, alters your body temperature, and regulates your metabolism to keep you alert or draw you to sleep. And your circadian rhythm is influenced directly by light and dark. When the retina of your eye senses sunlight and artificial light, the production and release of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone, is suppressed. When it is dark, melatonin levels increase which in turn, helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep issues can be challenging to manage— however, experts agree that the best strategy for most sleep disturbances is to improve “Sleep Hygiene”—the rituals and routines we undergo before bedtime.
- Adults should get between 7-9 hours/night and older adults between 7-8 hours/night according to the National Sleep Foundation
- Keep sleep and wake times consistent, even on weekends
- Transition into sleep at bedtime with calming activities—reading, warm baths, meditation, praying. Most people do not have an “on/off” switch.
- Dim room lights, power-down computers, phones, tablets, and turn televisions off at least 30 minutes before bedtime. And, try not to talk on the phone before bedtime.
- Avoid chemicals that are stimulating in the late afternoon and evening—caffeine is not just present in coffee, but teas, chocolate, and soda. And, too, nicotine is a stimulant.
- Lower the thermostat —your body temperature needs to drop slightly in order to fall asleep.
- Put away concerns and worries (and electronics). Oftentimes our minds can race with stimulating projects, commitments and electronics – that can keep us awake.
- During the day, be physically and mentally active. If you choose to exercise in the evening, schedule it at least 2 hours before bedtime.
- When you wake-up, get out of bed which begins a new sleep cycle (eat breakfast, expose yourself to natural light within 2 hours of waking).
- With time changes, adjust your sleep/wake times in small increments (15-30 minutes) so your body can transition gradually.
Making healthy changes to your sleep hygiene and light exposure, will help you to get and maintain a good night of sleep. Remember that sleep is vital to overall good health and you must plan steps to get the sleep you need. Enjoy!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.