Spring forward. Most of us look forward to this shift of light all winter long. But the change itself? Not so much. In our hurried lives, it’s hard to deprive that hour of sleep. In fact, it can take up to 10 days to shake the jet-lagged feeling.
Here’s what happens. Our internal clock, known as the human circadian system, operates on chemical rhythms that tell your body when to sleep and when to be awake. These rhythms develop out of consistent schedules, and can be difficult to change. Believe it or not, even just one hour makes a noticeable, and sometimes difficult, transition for many people.
To help, we recommend gradually transitioning into the time change by making small adjustments a few days before. Remember, if your normal bedtime during the winter was 11 p.m., after the start of daylight saving time, your body will feel like it’s only 10 p.m. when you go to bed. This may cause problems falling asleep and waking up in the morning.
Follow these tips to make sleep easier during the time change and all year long:
Adjust your schedule. Start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier a few days before the time change. It helps to dim the lights in the later part of the evening. This prompts your brain to release melatonin, which initiates a sense of sleepiness.
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime ritual. Being “exhausted” is not the same as being “sleepy” and they often need to be teased apart. Physical exhaustion requires time to relax and unwind, which should be done prior to heading to bed for sleep.
Rise and shine at the same time, even on the weekends. Even though you may not feel like getting up and going, a fixed routine helps your body regulate its sleep pattern and get the most out of the hours you sleep. And if possible, expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible during the early morning hours.
Avoid long naps. As luxurious as napping sounds, long naps can dramatically affect the quality of your nighttime sleep. If you need to nap, try limiting it to 15–20 minutes in the late morning or early afternoon.
Exercise regularly. Even moderate exercise like walking for 30 minutes three times a week can help you sleep better. Just be sure you finish 2–3 hours before bedtime. Exercise raises body temperature which can interfere with falling asleep.
Watch what you drink and eat before bedtime. Avoid caffeine after 5 p.m. and if you are hungry, eat small snacks, not large meals. And while alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it disrupts your sleep during the second half of the night.
Proper sleep is a key element in living a healthy lifestyle. Poor sleep can lead to whole host health problems, especially if you choose to ignore it. So spring forward and sleep better all year long … and be sure to talk with your doctor or contact one of Mercy Health’s sleep centers if your sleep issues don’t improve.