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As clocks march ahead and daylight saving time begins this weekend, you may be anxious about losing an hour of sleep and how to adjust to this change.
Even though it’s technically just one hour lost due to the time change, the amount of sleep deprivation due to disrupted sleep rhythm lasts for many days and often throws people off schedule, leading to cumulative sleep loss.
Many studies have demonstrated that there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure associated with sleep deprivation. Workplace injuries increase and so do automobile accidents. Adolescents often find it harder to wake up in time to get to school and may have difficulties with attention and school performance or worsening of mental health problems.
Is there something to be done to help to deal with this loss of sleep and change of body clock timing?
We lead a sleep evaluation center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and regularly see patients who are dealing with sleep loss and whose internal clocks are not synchronized with external time. Our experience has shown us that it’s important to prepare, as much as possible, for the time shift that occurs every spring.
Here are some quick tips to prepare yourself for the time shift.
Don’t start with a “sleep debt”
Ensure that you and, if you’re a parent, your child get adequate sleep regularly, especially leading up to the time change each year. Most adults need anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep daily to perform adequately. Children have varying requirements for sleep depending on their age.
Earlier to bed — and to rise
Going to bed — and for parents, putting your kids to bed — 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night in the week before the time change is ideal. Having an earlier wake time can help you get to sleep earlier.
Try to wake up an hour earlier than is customary on Saturday, the day before the time change. If you aren’t able to make changes to your sleep schedule in advance, then keep a very consistent wake time on weekdays as well as weekends to adjust to the time change more easily.
Use light to your advantage
Light is the strongest cue for adjusting the internal body clock. Expose yourself to bright light upon waking as you start getting up earlier in the week before daylight saving time starts. This resets your internal clock in the right direction. If you live in a place where natural light is limited in the morning after clocks change, use bright artificial light to signal your body clock to wake up earlier. As the season progresses, this will be less of an issue as the sun rises earlier in the day.
At night, minimize exposure to bright light and especially the blue light emitted by the screens of electronic media. This light exposure late in the day can be enough to shift your body rhythm and signal your internal clock to wake up later the next day. If your devices permit, set their screens to dim and emit less blue light in the evening.
In some geographic locations, it might be helpful to have room-darkening curtains at bedtime depending on how much sunlight your room gets at bedtime. Be sure to open the curtains in the morning to allow the natural morning light to set your sleep-wake cycle.
Carefully plan day and evening activities.
The night before the time change, set yourself up for a good night’s sleep by incorporating relaxing activities that can help you wind down, such as reading a book or meditating.
Incorporate exercise in the morning or early in the day. Take a walk, even if it is just around the house or your office during the day.
Pay more attention to what you eat and drink this week
Be especially gentle with yourself and the kids
If you’re a parent or caregiver, try to be patient with your kids as they adjust to the new times. Sleep deprivation affects the entire family, and some kids have a harder time adjusting to the time change than others. You may notice more frequent meltdowns, irritability and loss of attention and focus. Set aside more quiet, electronic media-free time in the evening. Consider a brief — 20 minutes or so — nap in the early afternoon for younger children who are having a difficult time dealing with this change. Prioritizing sleep pays off in the short term and over the years. A good night’s sleep is a necessary ingredient for a productive and fulfilling day.
Deepa Burman is codirector of the Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center and an associate professor of pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh. Hiren Muzumdar directs the Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.