Like millions of sleep-deprived people, you probably jumped for joy at the thought of an extra hour of sleep this weekend. But the real question is: did you take advantage of it? Or did you find yourself staying out an hour later than usual or watching another episode of Black Mirror, just because you could?
Or maybe you did exactly what experts recommend during Daylight Saving Time: you went to bed at your usual time and scored that coveted extra hour of sleep. So why does everything from your appetite to your attention span seem so off kilter today?
In theory, “falling back” means we get an extra hour of restful, revitalizing sleep. But in reality, this seemingly harmless one-hour time change causes a shift in the body’s sleep-wake cycle, which can disrupt your dozing for days and cause numerous side effects, especially when it comes to your health.
The Rhythm of the Night
As much as we think we’re in control of our destiny, it’s our circadian rhythm that regulates our sleep. A key factor in regulating this rhythm is a light-sensitive, sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin. When you’re exposed to light, your body releases less of it to keep you alert and energized for the day. Vice-versa, if we receive less light our pineal gland pumps out melatonin, helping us to drift into the restorative sleep our bodies need. The takeaway? Whenever there are light changes, changes to your sleep cycle are sure to follow.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends
The majority (74 %) of Canadians are already in chronic sleep debt, getting less than seven hours a night. If this is you, you were probably counting on Daylight Saving to top you up. Unfortunately there is little evidence that we bank any extra sleep when we “fall back”. In fact, you may find your sleep is even more out of whack this week. This is because people who log less than 7.5 hours a night and/or are early risers have the most trouble adjusting to the new schedule.
Why does it matter? Lack of sleep is a nightmare for your health. Not only does it impair your judgment, mood and memory, burning the candle at both ends can have serious long-term health consequences. Over time, sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke and depression.
The Bright Side
Don’t give up counting those sheep just yet! Daylight Savings is the perfect opportunity to start working with your internal clock. With shorter days just around the corner, kick off the covers and beat the sleep blues with these five tips.
Eat, Drink, Sleep, Repeat
Sleeping and eating go hand in hand. Too much eating can mess with your sleep (think heartburn, gas, stomach pain, etc.). But if you don’t eat enough, you risk waking up in the middle of the night to a growling stomach. The solution: Eat balanced meals and snacks regularly throughout the day. Listen to your body’s hunger signals and if you’re truly hungry, feed it. Avoid heavy late night meals and try to eat your evening meal at least three hours before bedtime.
Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine (especially at night) and try relaxation techniques like a hot bath, meditation or reading. Also, turn off the TV and all devices at least an hour before bed. The blue light tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime, making it that much harder to embrace sleep.
Reset your Sleep
Keeping a consistent sleep routine helps get your body get back in sync. Exposure to early morning rays—especially when they’re few and far between in the fall—allows your body to wake more naturally, regulating your circadian rhythm and boosting energy.
Fall for Fitness
Physical activity is a remarkable mood booster, which is key for warding off those winter blues. Try to get your blood pumping for at least 30 minutes each day, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Take a brisk walk at lunch, hit the gym or join a fitness class—you’ll thank yourself as you easily drift off to bed.
Catch ’em While You Can
Sunset comes sooner with the end of Daylight Saving Time so it’s imperative to catch some rays in the middle of the day. Not only does sunlight suppress melatonin, but it also elevates your serotonin level, which is a powerful mood booster. So get out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts, whether it’s eating your lunch outside or trading your afternoon coffee for a 10-minute stroll.
Don’t Hit Snooze on your Health
Along with diet and exercise, ample sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic disease.
It can take your circadian rhythm up to a week to adjust from Daylight Saving. And while these rhythms shift, your body notices the difference big time. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule, aim for 7 – 9 hours of quality sleep each night and follow the steps above. You’ll find that spring is back in your step in no time–even in the dead of winter.