Every March, we are all faced with the arrival of Daylight Saving Time and its impact on our circadian rhythms,our sleep-wake pattern. The 1-hour shift in time can even temporarily disrupt our ability to fall asleep at night and to wake up in the morning. We not only lose an hour of sleep, but the time change disrupts the body's biological clock and circadian rhythm. The effect is the same as jetlag in plane travel, in which our bodies remain on the prior schedule for a period of time.
"People who sleep well can usually adjust to the time shift with little difficulty," says Jeffrey P. Barasch, M.D., Medical Director of The Valley Hospital Center for Sleep Medicine in Ridgewood, NJ. However, if someone has been coping with chronic difficulty sleeping, daylight saving time can worsen or uncover an undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
It is important to keep in mind that the required amount of sleep per day changes with age, and studies indicate the following recommended sleep durations:
• Newborns -- 16 to 18 hours a day
• Preschool-aged children -- 11 to 12 hours a day
• School-aged children -- at least 10 hours a day
• Teens -- 9 to 10 hours a day
• Adults (age 20-64) -- 7 to 9 hours a day
• Elderly (age 65 and over) -- 7 to 8 hours a day
"Unfortunately, as you well know, sometimes life can prevent us from going to bed when we want to and many of us have experienced the frustration of not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep once we are in bed," Dr. Barasch says. "Luckily, our bodies can adjust to occasional instances when we do not get enough sleep."
But what happens when we are consistently not getting enough sleep? According to Dr. Barasch, sleep deprivation can impact the brain and every organ in the body. During sleep, a newly discovered network of water channels in the brain, called the glymphatic system, becomes active and functions as a waste disposal system, carrying toxins away which would otherwise accumulate and damage brain cells. The accumulation of one of those toxins, amyloid-beta, is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Barasch warns that those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, regardless of the reason, can experience adverse effects in many aspects of their lives. The lack of crucial restorative sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, irritability, difficulty focusing, deterioration in work or school productivity, and impaired creativity and decision making. Sleep deprivation also affects performance and reaction time. Losing two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of alcohol intoxication. Sleep deprivation is also involved in many automobile, truck and airplane crashes. Lack of sleep also promotes weight gain and may lead to long term health consequences, such as depression, diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders and colon cancer.
So what do you do if your struggle with sleep isn't limited to a change in the clocks? If you are having difficulty sleeping, the National Institute of Health suggests incorporating some of the following strategies into your nighttime routine: • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. • Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. • Avoid alcoholic drinks, nicotine and caffeine before bed. • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active. • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed). • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.
If you regularly experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue or disturbed sleep, consider consulting with a sleep medicine specialist to evaluate and treat the problem.
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