Sunday, November 4, marked the end of Daylight Saving Time this year, and unlike the springtime transition in March, turning the clocks back an hour in November means a precious extra hour of sleep!
Compared to the jet lag-like feeling that comes with turning the clocks forward in the spring, this weekend's extra hour of sleep felt like a gift -- one that many of the 43 percent of Americans who say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep couldn't wait to receive.
Thanks to that extra hour, "falling back" isn't nearly as disruptive to our bodies as "springing forward." Our circadian rhythms, or our bodies' natural clocks, operate on a slightly longer than 24-hour cycle, he says. "Being able to extend our day is much easier than it is to shorten our day. The body clock is used to a little bit of extra time."
As such, it can take up to a week to feel back to normal after the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in March, and experts recommend preparing by adjusting bedtime by a few minutes each night leading up to the time change. But in the fall, all it usually takes is one night. "We tell people they don't even really need to prepare for the change when we get an extra hour of sleep," says Oexman.
Falling back may even help us prioritize sleep. After the time change, it will get dark earlier, which could prompt us to hit the hay sooner, especially compared to the long, well-lit summer evenings that encouraged us to stay up past our bedtimes.
It may even remind us to value sleep long afterward. In the days after the spring transition, car accidents, heart attacks and injuries on the job all increase. But after we turn the clocks back, we see a decrease in heart attacks and car accidents, a testament to the power of sleep, says Oexman. "It shows the importance of even gaining one hour of sleep. If we can make an effort to get a little more sleep, maybe we can control diseases like heart disease or diabetes or risk of accidents," he says.
However, there is a little bad news. Soon, the sleep-deprived workers who find themselves putting in long hours at the office could be making both the morning and evening commute in the dark. And the early nightfall might make it more difficult to stay awake for some people, especially the elderly, says Oexman. "The tendency is to get tired, watch TV in the dark and nap, and then when it's time to go to bed, they don't sleep well and wake up very early in the morning," he says.
The dark evenings and trouble sleeping can make some susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to your doctor if you're feeling sleepiness paired with a stronger appetite, decreased energy, unhappiness and a loss of interest in work or other activities.Others may experience a simple dip in mood and energy that Oexman says is preventable with a few simple steps:
- Expose yourself to plenty of light. When it starts to get dark out early, turn on the lights around the house, he says, to remind your brain that it's not quite time for bed. Get outside during the day, maybe during your lunch break, for natural light. If it's too cold, open your blinds to at least let some sunshine into your home.
- Exercise late. Typically, experts don't recommend working out too close to bedtime, but a late-afternoon or early-evening sweat session can help keep you energized during those dreary evenings.
- Try light therapy. Oexman suggests buying a small box to keep on your desk at the office, or for women to turn one on while putting on makeup in the morning. The gadget mimics natural sunlight, so a regular lamp won't do the trick.
How does changing the clocks affect you? Let us know in the comments.
Can't sleep? Check out which home remedies really work.
Soothing music before bedtime can really do the trick. A 2005 study found that older people who listened to 45 minutes of soft tunes before hitting the hay reported a 35 percent improvement in their sleep problems. But it doesn't have to be Brahms, if that's not your style. As long as the music was soft and slow -- around 60 to 80 beats per minute -- it can spur physical changes known to promote sleep, like a slower heart rate and breathing, the BBC reported. "We know that when a person closes their eyes they induce a certain frequency of brain waves," says Decker. Slow music may have a similar effect, he surmises, leading to sleep onset. Flickr photo by Llima
It was once thought that a glass of warm milk at bedtime would help send you off to dreamland because of the tryptophan, The New York Times reported, but milk and other protein-rich foods actually block tryptophan's sleepiness-inducing effects. However, there might still be a psychological benefit to that warm milk, the Times concluded, calling it "as soothing as a favorite old blanket." "There have been some studies showing that when infants receive warm milk before bed, they'll dream a little bit more," says Decker, but the results don't hold true in adults. "It may be one of those myths that because it happens in children, adults think it may be true for them, too," he explains. However, many adults are actually at least slightly lactose intolerant, he says, meaning a warm mlik at bedtime may just lead to discomfort. Flickr photo by julianrod
If your goal is to bore yourself to sleep, you might try counting sheep, or counting backwards by multiples of three or any of a number of other counting-related mind-numbers. But a 2002 study found that imagining a more relaxing scene might be more effective. The study observed 41 people with insomnia over a number of nights and asked them to try a variety of different sleep-inducing techniques, like counting sheep. On the nights they were told to imagine relaxing scenes like a beach, a massage or a walk in the woods, they fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner than on the nights they were told to count sheep or were given no instructions, Mental Floss reported. Decker agrees. "Counting sheep in and of itself may not help," but can act as a ritual that prepares us for sleep, making it not unlike meditation. Counting sheep -- or more relaxing guided imagery -- helps us "focus on something other than life's stressors," he says. "Thinking about a soothing environment may be more restful than the way you spent the last eight hours!" Flickr photo by Kr. B.
Focusing on the breath, whether it's as part of a pre-bed yoga sequence or just a tuned-in awareness, can also have meditation-like effects in preparing for bed, says Decker, like lowering the heart rate. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
Your body temp dips about two hours before bedtime, Health magazine reported, a natural change that "triggers our brain for sleep onset", says Decker. Soaking in a warm bath beforehand boosts your temperature temporarily, but results in a dramatic, rapid cooldown after you get out that relaxes you and eases you into sleep. It's not necessarily the bath that lulls you to sleep, it's that resulting cooling of your body temperature, Decker emphasizes. Research shows that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly, but also report better quality of sleep, he says.
Many people swear by a drink to unwind at the end of the day, but alcohol before bed can actually disrupt your sleep. You'll be more likely to wake up more often in the early-morning hours, wake up and not be to fall back to sleep or have disturbing dreams. "As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it has a disruptive effect," says Decker. It takes a few hours to metabolize, he says, so a drink with dinner shouldn't be a problem, but anything too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Flickr photo by Rob Qld
It sounds crazy -- how will you ever get to sleep if you're not even in bed?! -- but it works, says Decker. "When a person stays in bed and they can't sleep, the bedroom can induce a certain level of anxiety," he says. "We say after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep," he says. "Staying in bed can condition you to become anxious in bed." A small 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that among the adults studied who reported trouble sleeping, those who spent less time in bed had better sleeping habits. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
For more on sleep, click here.