Is it a zombie apocalypse?

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

I write to warn you of an affliction I fear is sweeping the country. And by the time you read this, I may be one of its victims.

Look around you. Are your family members, friends and co-workers acting uncharacteristically? Are they staring straight ahead, moving slowly or seemingly unaware of your presence?

Is this a zombie apocalypse?

Fortunately, I conducted some research and am here to share my findings and quell your worries. These are not signs that our bodies have been invaded and that monsters are taking over the world.

What you may be witnessing are the effects of what is known as Daylight Saving Time, an annual occurrence that causes Americans to lose an hour of sleep each spring (well, in recent times, it occurs when it technically still is winter) in exchange for an extra hour of daylight every evening. Some people may argue about whether the tradeoff saves energy as intended, but some studies suggest that its effects are no laughing matter and include increased car accidents and health issues such as heart attacks and stroke in the days immediately following the change.

Daylight Saving Time actually can cause a mild case of jet lag, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, “may be thrown off course, affecting how much sleep-inducing melatonin is released and when,” the foundation says.

The good news, according to experts, is that we all should recover fairly quickly, in anywhere from one day to two weeks. To speed the healing process, we can follow the advice of Michael W. Smith, M.D., writing on WebMD:

  • Expose yourself to light as much as possible during waking hours, and avoid bright light when it is dark outside.
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet.
  • Exercise several hours before bedtime, not right before bed.
  • Perform the same pre-bedtime routine every night to relax yourself.
  • Consider wearing ear plugs and an eye mask when sleeping.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. (Leading up to Daylight Saving Time requires a different approach, according to sleep experts at Vanderbilt University — going to bed 15 minutes earlier than normal each night in the days leading up to the transition. But it's too late for that now.)

Those Vandy experts also suggest making sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature, and avoiding bright lights and stimulation of TVs, computers and other electronics before bed.

These tips, in fact, can help improve our slumber year-round, thereby improving the experiences we have when we are awake. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep every night.

By following these suggestions, we should increase the likelihood of being safe until November, when Daylight Saving Time ends and we'll be forced once again to ward off evil side effects of a time change. (And seriously, see your physician for routine check-ups, and seek immediate medical attention if you exhibit potentially serious symptoms.)

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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