Can setting the clocks back affect your health?

Fall time change.jpg

Tonight is the night we turn our clocks back and gain that extra hour of precious sleep. Many of us look forward to the switch, and see it as a chance to gain back time lost in the spring.

However, it isn`t that simple. In reality, many people don’t, or can’t, take advantage of this weekend’s extra hour of sleep. And the resulting shift in the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle can disrupt sleep for several days.

Time changes are a good reminder that we do have an internal clock, our circadian clock, and that practicing healthy sleep habits, such as going to bed and getting up according to a schedule, are important to our health.

So, what can you do to help your internal clock function at its best?

  • This weekend, take advantage of the opportunity to get an extra hour of sleep. Resist the urge to stay up later in anticipation of the time change.
  • Start your morning off with a good breakfast, since mealtimes can act as a trigger to help your body clock readjust. On this note, avoid eating heavy meals right before bedtime.
  • Increase your exposure to bright light and physical activity during the day and until late afternoon/early evening to help compensate for the overall reduction of daylight hours.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages, as caffeine can disrupt your natural sleep rhythm. If you absolutely must have your morning coffee, try to limit yourself to that one cup in the morning. The effects of caffeine are long lasting, even a coffee just after lunch can wreak havoc with your sleep that night. And look for other sources of caffeine as well, such as tea, chocolate and protein bars (some bars contain up to 50 mg of caffeine).
  • Avoid other substances that can interfere with sleep: Alcohol and nicotine have both been shown to disturb sleep patterns, keeping you from being able to get the sleep that you need.
  • Certain nutrients, such as magnesium, can help to ensure healthy sleep.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.