Coping With Daylight Saving Time
WASHINGTON — It is, quite literally, a rite of spring, a day when most of us will “spring forward” into daylight saving time.
With the exception of residents of Hawaii, most of Arizona (the Navajo Nation is the exception) and a handful of U.S. territories, a new season of darker mornings and longer, sunlit nights will arrive on Sunday, March 12, at 2 a.m.
For some — those who manage to keep up their normal sleep regime — the change will barely be noticed.
However, for those who’ve procrastinated or never make adjustments before the annual change, Sunday morning could come down on them like a sledgehammer.
A wealth of research has detailed the links between the switch to daylight saving time and an increased risk of sudden heart attacks, strokes and mood disturbances, as well as hospital admissions.
Along with that, researchers have documented an increase in vehicle accidents and traffic fatalities attributed to driving in suddenly darker mornings or drivers hitting the road at any time while drowsy.
Based on this evidence, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in Darien, Illinois, has suggested the changes be abolished in favor of permanent standard time.
“Mounting evidence shows the dangers of seasonal time changes, which have been linked to increased medical errors, motor vehicle accidents, increased hospital admissions and other problems,” said Jennifer Martin, a licensed clinical psychologist and president of the AASM. “Restoring permanent, year-round standard time is the best option for our health and well-being.”
Managing the Daylight Saving Time Dilemma
To head off the risks, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Farmers’ Almanac and others recommend going to sleep 20-30 minutes before one’s usual bedtime in the days leading up to the “spring forward.”
In addition, if you’re sleepy heading out on the road to work, those in the know recommend pulling over to the side of the road for a quick break, quick nap or a cup of coffee.
Experts with the Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia University also recommend taking a walk outside within two hours of waking up — particularly if the sun is shining.
Drinking a cup of tea or coffee can also help, but beware going overboard. Drink too much coffee or tea, and the caffeine will further disrupt your sleep.
The authors at the Farmers’ Almanac recommend that one take pains to go to bed and get up at the same time, and to get at least seven hours of sleep the day before and the day after setting the clock ahead.
“The closer you stick to your normal routine, the faster your body will adjust to the time change,” the almanac says.
In the days after the time change, quit caffeinated beverages 4-6 hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol in the evening. If you are exercising, avoid workouts within 4 hours of bedtime because raising your body’s core temperature can make it harder to fall asleep.
If you know you have a tough time with time changes, you need to avoid electronics near bedtime, at least for a few days afterwards.
Electronics’ high-intensity light hinders melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness.
Keep your dinnertime consistent. And eat more protein, less carbs, on the days around the time change.
Don’t overeat. Also, if you find yourself reaching for a snack, choose one that is high in protein instead of carbohydrates.
Get outside and get exposure to morning sunlight on the Sunday after the time change to help regulate your internal clock.
If you feel like you need a nap, take one — but keep it short. Again, you want to regain lost sleep hours, not pay a sleep problem forward.
How Long Am I Going to Feel Weird?
If you’re one of those who suffers every time you’re forced to spring ahead or “fall back,” you’re likely suffering from a significant disruption of your sleep and circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock).
The good news is they will eventually catch, but the lag in the transition is real.
The best evidence suggests the time change could affect your sleeping and waking patterns for as much as seven days, though the duration is usually much shorter.
In the meantime, a melatonin supplement may help.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms and with sleep.
As with all dietary supplements, however, people who are taking medicine should consult their health care providers before using melatonin.
In particular, people with epilepsy and those taking blood thinner medications need to be under medical supervision when taking melatonin supplements.
It should also be noted that melatonin may stay active in older people longer than in younger people and cause daytime drowsiness.
Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue
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