“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine.”
The forward “springing” of clocks in mid-March is a sure sign that spring and summer are fast approaching. It’s a tradition observed in many places across the globe with a few exceptions here and there. The concept of Daylight Saving Time is simple: move clocks one hour ahead to extend the length of light in a day throughout the summer months. Since its adoption during World War I, DST has been the subject of much conversation and controversy.
The Earth “wobbles” as it rotates, driving the seasons. As the planet tilts, so too does the position of the Sun in the sky, changing the length of daytime in the process. Our bodies rely heavily on light to regulate its natural rhythm, and any changes to our schedules, even one as minor as an hour, can wreak havoc on our bodily systems.
In this article, we will discuss the effects DST can have on the human body as well as some of the ways to counteract them.
#1: Sleep Earlier
Although this may seem like an obvious solution, bear in mind that many people fail to realize what a difference a few extra minutes of sleep can make. In the days before a time change, start going to bed fifteen minutes earlier each day. This gentle staggering of sleep makes for a much easier transition when the time actually changes. Be sure to also wake up fifteen minutes earlier on those same days.
As human beings, our internal body clock (or circadian rhythm) is heavily dependent on light to regulate itself. When the time changes, it throws off our sense of balance and wellbeing, leading to feelings of sluggishness and sleepiness—a phenomenon similar to jetlag. By slowly adjusting in smaller increments, it gives our bodies the chance to compensate for the lack of sleep to a point where our bodies, ideally, may feel like nothing changed at all.
#2: Develop a Routine
We can’t think of a better time to refresh and restart than a time change; it offers us the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on our habits or lack thereof. Studies have shown that it takes about 21 days of continuous behavior for it to become a habit, and the best time to make positive change is right now.
It’s important to maintain proper “sleep hygiene,” which is essentially maintaining a clean and conducive environment for the best sleep possible. Make sure that the bedroom is used mainly for sleeping, and that it be kept to one’s liking (preferably dark, quiet, and comfortable). Our bedrooms are our sanctuaries; it’s where we retreat to escape the day and unwind. We owe it to ourselves to make sure we have the proper accommodations for a restful night of sleep.
#3: Avoid Napping
There’s nothing quite like a quick snooze in the afternoons after a long day. While scientists agree that naps are beneficial to one’s health, it’s important—like anything—to practice moderation. Although we suggest avoiding naps entirely to adjust to the time change, a quick 15-minute nap can be forgiven. Squeezing a long nap into our busy schedules, while appealing, may do more harm than good when it comes to overcoming that jetlagged feeling.
It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial to our health. From releasing feel-good endorphins to maintaining a healthy weight, the benefits of exercise are nearly limitless. When it comes to adjusting to a new sleep schedule, exercise can be your best friend! Experts suggest that a daily exercise routine helps to use our energy in productive ways which, in turn, allows for more efficient sleep. Just be sure to squeeze your routine into your morning schedule to avoid staying up all night from the workout “buzz.”
A difficult concept for most, we know, but being able to relax and wind down for the evening is essential for a good night’s sleep. Our lives are full of stressors; between work, school, and other responsibilities, the average person has a lot on their plate. Despite the hustle and bustle of the week, we must remember to set aside time to relax, decompress, and prepare ourselves for the next day.
Try to unwind for at least 30 to 45 minutes before bed. The longer, the better! Take a nice shower, read a book, drink some warm milk—anything to help bring the heart rate down and calm the mind before bed. Although it sounds cliché, reading a book in bed (just like in the movies!) is actually a very good technique to calm the mind.
#6: Avoid Bright Light
As we mentioned above, our bodies are dependent on light to regulate our internal “clock,” and light is the biggest variable when it comes to the time change. Try dimming or turning off lights entirely about an hour before bed, including electronic devices like televisions, cell phones, tablets, etc.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that is thought to regulate sleep patterns. The secretion of this essential hormone is dependent almost entirely on light, or rather the lack thereof. Nature intended humans to sleep when night came and wake with the sunrise. Modern society has made that difficult for the modern citizen.
For those of us who are restless sleepers or who frequently wake up during the night, avoid turning on lights. Instead, consider purchasing inexpensive nightlights from home improvement stores, garage sales, thrift stores, and many other places. Their mild glow doesn’t affect our brains as much as turning on, say, the bathroom or hallway lights.
#7: No Stimulating Beverages
It’s best to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages a few hours before bed. While not everyone is sensitive to these substances, science and medicine have proven the effects of these mild drugs. Their stimulating effects can do some damage to our sleep schedules. Try replacing an evening cup of tea with a decaffeinated version or perhaps scrapping the tea entirely.
It’s okay to indulge every once in a while, but to do so during a critical and stressful time for our bodies—such as during the time change—puts unnecessary stress on the body.
Keep in mind that the tips we’ve outlined in this article are also great sleep tips in general. We understand how busy and stressful life can be, but we also understand how important sleep is to our health and wellbeing. Use these tips today and always to get the most out of your time asleep.
Sleep is anything but a waste of time. Not only does it feel great, but it actually is great. Sleep typically occurs in four stages:
- Stage 1 is the lightest level of sleep. This is often characterized by a dreamy and hypnotic sense of being. People are easily awoken or startled as the body drifts in and out of this stage. It’s not uncommon to experience sensations of falling or muscle spasms during Stage 1.
- Stage 2 is considered the first actual stage of sleep. The body is not easily awoken. Brain waves continue to slow down while random bursts, or spindles, of activity, ensure the body remains asleep. The body temperature begins to drop as does the heart rate.
- Stage 3 is the deepest stage of sleep. It’s very difficult to awaken someone during this stage as it is the most restorative of the stages. Sleepwalking, talking in one’s sleep, and even night terrors occur during this stage.
- Stage 4 is known as rapid eye movement (REM) or, most commonly, the dream state. As the name implies, the eyes dart quickly underneath closed eyelids and the brain becomes more active than in the previous two stages as it dreams. To be awoken during this stage can often leave us groggy and drowsy.
With that being said, one can better understand the controversy surrounding DST and how it disrupts our delicate sleep patterns. Sleep is so essential to our bodily functions that the time change has been known to increase the risk of car accidents, heart attacks, and even suicides.
What are your thoughts about DST? Is it for the better or for the worse? We’d love to hear from you!
We here at iGalen wish you all health and happiness and, of course, a restful night of sleep! As always, be sure to share this article with your friends and loved ones so that they too can get the best sleep possible.