Time change can affect sleep habits

SPRINGFIELD -- Turning back the clocks in preparation for when Standard Time goes into effect at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, Nov. 7, may be hazardous to your health. Or not.

"Usually a one-hour time difference doesn't have a big effect on a person's sleep habits, but for some it can be more difficult to adjust their biological clock," said Dr. Karin Johnson, a sleep specialist in the Neurology division at Baystate Medical Center.

"As a rule, especially for adults, a one-hour time change should not take more than one day for the body to adjust to the new time," she added.

But the time switch could usher in some nighttime sleep and daytime alertness problems for some in an already sleep-deprived American way of life, especially for those who plan on partying an hour later instead of taking advantage of a little extra shut-eye. And, for some, turning back the clocks may just be a life saver.

A Swedish study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008 noted that people had slightly fewer heart attacks on the Monday after they set their clocks back and slightly more heart attacks in the days after they set their clocks ahead in the spring. Mondays have been documented as the most dangerous day for heart attacks, partly blamed on the stress of returning to work after a relaxing weekend. The Swedish study suggests that disturbed sleep rhythms may be involved in causing a heart attack and that the extra hour of sleep gained in the fall when turning the clocks back may be protective.

For children, Johnson recommended parents may want to put their children to sleep an hour later, or be ready for them to wake up an hour earlier than they usually do. Or they can gradually prepare them for the change in the clock by waking your child 15 minutes earlier each day approaching the time change.

Baystate Medical Center's Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Center and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine offer tips to minimize any disruption to your sleep cycle:
  • Do not nap during the day. If you must snooze, limit the time to less than one hour and no later than 3 p.m.

  • Maintain a regular wake-up time, even on weekends.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, heavy meals and exercising a few hours before bedtime.

  • Stick to rituals that help you relax before going to bed. This can include such things as a warm bath, a light snack or a few minutes of reading.

  • Don't take your worries to bed.

  • If you can't fall asleep, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity. Return to bed only when you are tired.

  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and a little cool.

More than half of all Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder. For most adults, seven-to-eight hours a night is recommended to achieve good health and optimum performance. It is recommended that children in pre-school sleep between 11-13 hours a night, and school-aged children between 10-11 hours of sleep a night. Teenagers, on average, require about nine or more hours.

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