A Groundhog Early Spring
Before we get into sleep awareness, here’s a fun story.
The Accuracy of Punxsutawney Phil:
The clock strikes 7:30 AM on a cold overcast February 2nd morning in Gobbler’s Knob(1). Gobbler’s Knob, a small wooded area a couple miles outside Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is famous for its resident Phil the groundhog. February 2nd is the day Americans for years have referred to the reaction of a groundhog to determine if Spring would come early. If Phil sees his shadow, he will run back into his hole, and we supposedly will have six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, he will stay out meaning an early spring. Cool concept, but it’s only been right 40% of the time. So entertaining, but unfortunately not accurate.
Daylight Savings Time
What we can predict with 100% accuracy is that each year we will have Daylight Savings. A day that falls on the second Sunday in March each year where time springs forward an hour (in November the time will fall back an hour). This year, daylight savings time fell on Sunday, March 10th. What’s great about the timing of this, is that it just so happens that National Sleep Awareness week begins on March 11th.(2)
With National Sleep Awareness week, it is important that we become ever more aware of the importance of sleep and the effects of limited sleep. In connection with Daylight Savings, the hour lost has a greater effect than most may assume. Whether you lost an hour of sleep or not, by moving your clock up an hour you shift the “principal time cue for setting and resetting your 24-hour natural cycle, your circadian rhythm.”(3) By doing this your internal clock will be thrown out of sync.
Symptoms You Might Experience
Do not be alarmed if you feel more sleep deprived in the days immediately following Daylight Savings.
When gaining an hour (in the fall) this likely will not affect your body in any noticeable way. However, in the Spring, the loss of an hour can lead to a decrease in performance, concentration, and memory as well as fatigue and day time sleepiness.(4)
This is especially true for those of us already sleep deprived. Not surprisingly if you are getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, this hour change difference will likely not have a noticeable effect.
Resetting Your Internal Clock to Quickly Adjust
If you do not want to feel the effects of Daylight Savings, you can influence your internal clocks through behavior, the environment, as well as medications which all affect your sleep quality.
Sleep hygiene, better known as your sleep behavior, is affected by what you do each day. Some ways you can improve your sleep behavior include reducing or eliminating your caffeine and alcohol intake, exercising (but make sure to exercise hours before you go to bed), taking a hot bath before bed, wearing earplugs or eye masks to bed, as well as other bedtime rituals. Your sleep behavior can also be improved by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. There are also some theories that your daily carbohydrate intake can affect your circadian rhythm; however, there is no evidence to support these claims yet.(5) By changing your behavior, you can improve your sleep quality.
The environment you expose yourself to can also affect your sleep. Light suppresses the secretion of Melatonin, a sleep-inducing substance, so it is important that you do not expose yourself to bright lights when it is dark outside.(6) This includes cell phones and TV’s! Try not to have them on while you are in bed. If you must look at your phone or have your TV on, then set them to dimly lit settings. If you feel the need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, set up night lights. Limiting the amount of light allows you to improve your sleep quality.
Medication also can affect your sleep quality; however, medication should be a last resort. Not so much for Daylight Savings but for traveling across multiple times zones, medications such as bendodiazepines can help induce sleep.(7) However, bendodiazepines and similar medicines are highly addictive and can also negatively affect the quality of your sleep. So before use, it is recommended you consult your doctor. Medicine can affect your sleep quality, but it should only be used as a last resort.
The Ultimate Fix
The day after Day Light Savings, people are most likely going to be feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Thus your safety, as well as the safety of your loved ones, will be more at risk.
So what should you do? Take a nice easy morning and maybe go into work a bit later once the sun has gone up.
Be safe and enjoy a Happy March!