How long will it take you to adapt to time changes? Though a bit simplistic, a rule of thumb is that it takes about one day to adjust for each hour of time change. There is significant individual variation, however.
How will you feel during this transition? If you are getting seven to eight hours of sound sleep and go to bed a little early the night before, you may wake up feeling refreshed. Dr. Samton says that, "If you are sleep-deprived already, getting by on six hours, you're probably in a bit of trouble, especially if you consume alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime. In this situation, you may well experience the decrements of performance, concentration, and memory common to sleep-deprived individuals, as well as fatigue and daytime sleepiness."
What can you do to reset your internal clock to adapt more quickly to the time changes? Your circadian rhythm is internally generated but is influenced by the environment, behavior, and medications. As mentioned, light is the principal environmental cue. Light suppresses the secretion of the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. Dr. Samton points out that, "It is important to expose yourself to the light during the waking hours as much as possible, and conversely, do not expose yourself to bright light when it is dark outside. For example, if you get up at night to go to the bathroom, do not turn on the light. Prepare beforehand by installing a night light. Interestingly, specifically timed light therapy may either advance or delay your sleep cycle, depending on when it is delivered."
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe those actions you can take to create sleep-friendly environments and enhance your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping soundly. Basic sleep hygiene includes reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising several hours before bedtime, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax yourself (taking a hot bath for example), and wearing ear plugs and eye masks, to name a few. Also important is going to bed and rising at the same time every day. Though there is no evidence that certain diets will actually influence your circadian rhythm, carbohydrates tend to make it easier to fall sleep.
Keep a regular bedtime schedule even on the weekends. Our circadian clock regulates our sleep. When you wake at a regular time in the morning this strengthens the circadian function and can help you fall asleep more easily at night. That's why it's crucial to maintain a regular bedtime and wake time even when you're tempted to sleep in on the weekends.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. You need to get away from bright lights and any activity that can cause stress, excitement, or anxiety. Avoid stimulating activities right before bedtime like paying bills, working, playing competitive games or problem solving. There is some research that suggests that taking a hot bath before going to bed can help you transition into deeper sleep more easily. Finally, stay away from bright lights before bedtime. The light will signal your brain that its time to be awake, not asleep.
Your bedroom should be for sleeping and sex - nothing more. While it may be tempting to watch the late night show before turning in or do a little work on your computer, an entertainment/working environment isn't conducive to good sleep. Your bed should only be used for sleeping and sex.
Dr. Samton says that, "It is unlikely that medications would be needed for a simple one-hour time change of the clock, but in certain circumstances, like traveling across multiple time zones, hypnotic drugs like bendodiazepines may be used. Their indication is primarily to induce sleep when desired, to get on a new schedule. Given their potential for addiction and that they can negatively affect the quality of sleep, they should only be used under the direct guidance of a doctor or sleep specialist".
Julia Samton MD, Board Certified in
Psychiatry & Neurology
Dr. Julia Samton is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Neurology and is currently the Director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric, P.C. Dr. Samton is a voluntary faculty member at New York Hospital Weill Cornell and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
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