Prepare now for next spring's time change

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

It happens every year in most of the country, and every year, people complain about daylight saving time, that day when we move the clocks ahead one hour, losing an hour of sleep.

Most of us “sprang ahead” yesterday. Those living in Arizona and Hawaii, where the clocks remain on standard time all year, were the exceptions, and the Florida legislature is considering becoming state No. 3.

Adjusting to the time change is more than an annoyance, according to Erik Herzog, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis. A documented increase in heart attacks and vehicle accidents occurs for a few days after we make the switch due to fewer hours of sleep and other factors, he says.

“We have a form of jet lag, where the internal clock takes several days to adjust to a new schedule,” Herzog says.

To minimize the effects after the time change, he suggests seeking bright light today.

Alon Avidan, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of neurology and director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Sleep Disorders Center, also advises getting more exposure to bright light, specifically by spending more time outdoors, especially at the beginning and end of the day.

The less connected we are to natural cycles of darkness and light, the more difficult it is for us to adjust to the time change, he says. Getting too little daylight exposure in the morning and too much artificial light from electronic screens at night can complicate or even delay our adjustment to an earlier bedtime, Avidan adds.

He also suggests avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime and refraining from exercise in the late afternoon or early evening.

Allow yourself a week to adjust, according to the experts.

Daylight saving time also offers a great opportunity for us to stop and think about our sleep routines in general, maintains Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and director of graduate psychology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. She is a big believer in the holistic benefits of a regular sleep routine.

One big step we can take for better sleep, according to Mindell? “Get your smartphone off your nightstand, charge it in another room overnight and use an old-fashioned alarm clock,” she says, explaining that cell phone use in the bedroom is both a distraction that delays bedtime and a brain stimulant.

Good sleep is important, Mindell says, noting that a lack of it affects mood and emotional regulation, leading to feelings of frustration and anxiety in adults. A lack of sleep also affects cognitive ability (memory and decision-making) and overall health in that those who don't get enough sleep could catch a cold more easily, Mindell says.

Establishing a good sleep routine now might position us to better handle next year's change to daylight saving time.

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

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