Daylight Savings: Sleep Tips to Prepare for the Dark Days of Winter
According to a Michigan Medicine study there’s a 21% decrease in the number of heart attacks when we gain an hour of sleep in the fall1. In contrast, the same study shows that when we lose one hour of sleep in the spring, there is a 25% increase in heart attacks. While a one hour change does not seem like much, our bodies do require consistent routines. This data highlights how vulnerable our bodies are to the slightest variation in sleep.
Our master circadian clock is hard wired to a period of 24 hours, synchronized to the light and dark cycle. Light is the most powerful cue to regulate our circadian rhythms. Accumulated scientific evidence shows that we have time-keeping mechanisms in every organ. That means binge-watching Netflix and eating midnight snacks can come with the consequences of shifting our sleep cycle. Emerging evidence indicates that circadian misalignment can influence the development of heart disease, obesity and diabetes2.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine takes the position that the US should eliminate seasonal time changes3. While the daylight savings time debates continue, here are some practical tips to prepare for the dark days of winter:
Maintain a consistent sleep routine
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, including weekends.
Monitor your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Caffeine classifies as a stimulant, which means it increases the activity in your brain and central nervous system. Caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours and a quarter life of ten to twelve hours 4. That means if you drink coffee at 2 pm, half the caffeine is still circulating in your body at 7 pm. At midnight, a fourth of the caffeine is still circulating in your brain, disrupting your ability to fall asleep and decrease the quality of deep, REM sleep.
- Alcohol classifies as a sedative hypnotic drug, which means it depresses your central nervous system. Alcohol sedates the cortex in your brain and makes you feel sleepy but does not allow you to fall into deep REM sleep. Alcohol fragments your sleep by increasing the amount of alerting chemicals during sleep and triggers your fight or flight branch of your nervous system4. These changes increase the number of times you wake up during the night leaving you feeling more tired the next day.
Avoid heavy dinners and snacks before bed
- When you eat, your digestive system has to go to work digesting your food instead of the scheduled nightly housekeeping. Your stomach cooks up acid to break down fatty foods. When you lie down, your stomach acid is hammering on food without the assistance of gravity and often giving you uncomfortable acid reflux.
Spend time outdoors
- Exposure to sunlight can decrease feelings of tiredness during the day that accompany time changes. Morning outdoor exercise improves the quality of sleep at night.
Nap In moderation
- Avoid taking naps that exceed 20 minutes per day as they drain your adenosine. Adenosine hormone builds during the day and makes you feel tired and ready for bed at night.
For more tailored information on sleep, contact the Health Center team. You can chat with a Personal Health Navigator or call 646.819.5100 to schedule a virtual or in-person appointment.
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- Sandhu A, Seth M, Gurm HS. Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction Open Heart 2014;1:e000019. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2013-000019
- Noh J. The Effect of Circadian and Sleep Disruptions on Obesity Risk. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2018;27(2):78-83. doi:10.7570/jomes.2018.27.2.78
- Rishi MA, Ahmed O, Barrantes Perez JH, et al. Daylight saving time: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020;16(10):1781–1784.
- Walker, M., 2020. How caffeine and alcohol affect your sleep. Available at: <https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_how_caffeine_and_alcohol_affect_your_sleep?language=en> [Accessed 15 October 2021