At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, we finally recaptured that lost hour of sleep from last March as we marked the end of daylight saving time. And for the 47 million Americans who are sleep deprived, that extra hour is a chance to literally make up for lost time.
"This is one of those weekends we should really relish," said HuffPost blogger Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., CEO of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation. "The fact that Americans are so sleep deprived, it's a nice reprieve from the busy lifestyles that we all lead."
Rosenberg said this is the "good news story" of daylight saving time -- the welcome counterpart to the hour of sleep we lose at the beginning of spring, which can take up to a week to adjust to and send those who are already sleep deprived over the threshold of "crashing and burning." In fact, some studies have found a link between the spring-forward clock change and an increase in accidents and heart attacks.
On the other hand, some of those same studies often suggest the opposite effect in the fall -- a New England Journal of Medicine report found that heart attack rates decrease the Monday after the end of daylight saving time, Harvard Health Blog reports, while a Canadian study found a decrease in car accidents after the fall change, though Harvard Health Blog does point out that another study found an increase in accidents after both changes.
These time changes play out in our body a bit like jet lag might, explained Michael Decker, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Springing forward is like flying from west to east -- say from California to Washington, D.C. -- while falling back is like flying from east to west. And as frequent flyers can attest, the eastbound change is much harder to acclimate to than the westbound for most. "The adjustment is much milder in the fall than it is in the springtime," Decker says. And that means we may be experiencing a collective, but mild, jet lag this Sunday, which will clear up in 24 hours or so.
Yet while the transition may be an easy one, for many falling back also signifies a shift into winter and the changing light patterns that come with it. And perhaps that's the real health story behind the end of daylight saving time, stretching into winter long after that regained hour is forgotten.
For early birds and school children, the shift will mean it's light instead of dark outside in the mornings, which is good news for our internal biological clocks. When light stimulates a certain part of the brain first thing in the morning, it can make us more vigilant throughout the day and boost moods in the long run, Decker explained. "Now that the sun is rising a little earlier, we really want to think about getting up, going outside," he said. "Getting that bright light in the morning is absolutely key to health and performance and everything that goes with it."
But getting sunlight earlier in the day also means it may already be dark by the time people are leaving work. "There's always a psychological impact of it getting dark so early -- feeling that the days are shorter, and that winter is coming," Rosenberg explained.
And over time, that increase in darkness can lead to feeling blue and even experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the NIH, symptoms of SAD typically start in late autumn and winter and include increased appetite, increased daytime sleepiness, decreased energy in the afternoon, loss of interest in work, unhappiness and lethargy. If you're experiencing symptoms of SAD, speak to your doctor, who may start you on bright light therapy, Decker said. This technology emulates natural sunlight -- sorry, the fluorescent office lighting won't do the trick -- in order to re-sync your biological clock and sleep cycle. Check out more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder from HuffPost Mental Health Editor Lloyd Sederer, M.D., here.
Amidst the hype over daylight saving time, though, experts are also taking the opportunity to remind sleep-deprived Americans of the importance of good sleep hygiene and habits year-round.
While we may fret about gaining or losing that hour twice a year, Frisca L. Yan-Go, M.D., medical director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center and Laboratory, points out that abruptly staying out until 2 a.m. and sleeping until noon on the weekends can shift your body clock two and a half time zones every single weekend, which is far more significant than the one hour change that happens twice a year.
She tells her patients not to shift their sleep schedules more than two hours from weekday to weekend and to be mindful of maintaining regular sleep with a brief daytime power nap, if necessary. Studies have linked chronic sleep deprivation, beyond the situational daylight saving time changes, to increased traffic accidents and heart attacks, as well.
Rosenberg echoes that sentiment, pointing out that the end of daylight saving time kicks off with a much needed extra hour right before the busy holiday season, which is often marked by increased sleep debt and alcohol consumption, which can ruin sleep cycles in its own right. "This is a good weekend," he said, "to catch up on your sleep and start off the holiday season getting good sleep and more regular hours."
Having trouble sleeping beyond daylight saving time? Check out this related Huffington Post slideshow on five everyday things keeping you from getting good sleep.
Loneliness isn't just an issue of the heart and mind -- it's also an issue of sleep, a new study shows. The small study of 95 adults in South Dakota shows that people who perceived themselves as lonely had more fragmented sleep (which affects sleep quality, but not total sleep amount) than people who didn't think they were lonely. The findings mirror a 2002 study that showed that college students who felt lonely also had more fragmented sleep. "Whether you're a young student at a major university or an older adult living in a rural community, we may all be dependent on feeling secure in our social environment in order to sleep soundly," study researcher Lianne Kurina, Ph.D., said in a statement. "The results from these studies could further our understanding of how social and psychological factors 'get under the skin' and affect health."
High altitudes can also impact sleep, leading to "increased awakenings, frequent brief arousals, marked nocturnal hypoxemia [low blood oxygen], and periodic breathing," according to a 1999 review article in the journal Sleep and Breathing. "When you're in high altitude, the air becomes thinner, and when the air is thinner, we breathe irregularly," Decker told HuffPost. "As we breathe irregularly, that causes our brain to wake up from sleep and have disruptive sleep." Even though most of us don't live in extremely high-altitude areas of the world, nor are we all world-class climbers who regularly scale tall mountains, some people will still experience fragmented sleep if they are spending just a few days in a higher-than-normal altitude area (say, Denver, Colo.) or trying to sleep on an airplane, Decker said. If sleep is really becoming an issue at high altitudes, Decker said there are certain medications you can take that can help.
Veterinarians already advise against sleeping with pets because of the risk of contracting diseases. But sleeping with pets can also take a toll on your sleep quality, Decker said. A 2002 study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic shows that 53 percent of pet owners reported they had disrupted sleep every single night, although only 1 percent of the pet owners said that their sleep was interrupted by more than 20 minutes a night because of the pet, ScienceDaily reported. In addition, 21 percent of the pet owners said their dogs snore at night, and 7 percent said their cats snore at night. "Pets in the bedroom can disrupt sleep because of the noise they make," Decker said. To solve this problem, Decker recommends keeping pets out of the bedroom -- or at least on the floor, and off the bed.
Working the late shift takes more of a toll on people's sleep quality than they may realize, Decker said. Fourteen percent of Americans are shift workers, according to a 2005 poll, and the sleep problems they face include fatigue, disrupted sleep, and insomnia, according to the Sleep Foundation. Decker explained that the problems that come with working during the nighttime and sleeping during the daytime occur because of our body's sensitivity to light, and the cues we take from light to signal sleep time. "Light and dark are cues that help synchronize our circadian system to our environment," Decker said. The same concept goes for why people experience jet lag -- when you're crossing time zones, your brain is preparing to fall asleep because it's dark in your time zone. "But if you're suddenly waking up and receiving new light, your brain's sleep-wake cycle becomes desynchronized, and it takes several days to be resynchronized," Decker said. Decker recommends shift workers wear eyeshades when they sleep in the daytime to simulate darkness. HuffPost blogger Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, offers up some tips for avoiding health consequences of disturbed sleep from shift work here.
Were you told as a child to drink some warm milk or take a warm bath if you were having trouble sleeping? The common wisdom actually holds scientific roots, Decker said. That's because the temperature of the room in which we sleep could actually affect how well we sleep. In the evenings, our core body temperature begins to drop, Decker said, and that drop in temperature is the signal that it's time to go to sleep. Taking a hot bath or drinking something warm raises their core body so that it's able to drop and people are able to get that physiological cue for sleep, he said. As the night goes on and the morning begins to approach, our body temperature begins to gradually increase, until it reaches the room temperature and signals our brains to wake up, Decker explained. "So if a room is too warm, our body temperature can actually increase," and can lead to us waking up, he said. "Keeping the room cool helps ensure that we have a better quality of sleep and that we allow our brain temperature mechanisms to do what they're supposed to do." It's also possible to have affected sleeping if the room is too cold, too, WebMD reported. Sleep doctors generally recommend rooms to be between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, WebMD reported, though of course optimal temperatures are different for everyone.
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