As a nurse, I am no stranger to terrible sleep. Unfortunately, our bodies can quickly become sleep-dysregulated. Daylight savings time is an excellent opportunity to take stock of your sleep health and turn it around for the better.
Why is daylight savings bad for your brain?
It can often feel like you’re fighting a losing battle of “getting better at sleep.” This year, the dreaded daylight savings time (DST) “fall back” begins November 6 at 2 a.m. Fortunately, we will get an extra hour of sleep. But that doesn’t mean your body won’t feel the effects.
It usually takes an entire day to adjust for just one hour of sleep alternation. Avoid coffee and alcohol when you adapt to a new sleep cycle, as they both elongate the process and interfere with quality Zzzs.
Disrupted sleep patterns come with health risks. Headaches, depression, weight gain, and a sluggish metabolism are all consequences of messed-up sleep. In addition, sleep affects mood, and a lack of sleep can aggravate anxiety or other existing mental health conditions.
Sleep deprivation affects how we think. Less sleep causes stress, overwhelms our brains, and leads to poor food choices. Plus, sleep deprivation makes you hungrier. This is because your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that tells the brain to eat.
Dynamics of Sleep Health
According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
That’s because sleep health depends on two things:
- Sleep homeostasis
- Circadian rhythm
Sleep homeostasis is the desire to sleep that slowly builds from awakening to bedtime. Circadian rhythm is your natural internal clock that gets its charge from light and seasonal changes.
According to Dr. Phyllis C. Zee, sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern, the input from our environment regulates how well we sleep. Even getting more sleep (like during November’s “extra hour”) can throw sleep patterns off. That’s because it’s essential to be as consistent as possible with sleep cycles to match the body’s internal flow.
Your Brain on Sleep
The waning light of winter days can make your focus a muddled haze. Your body yearns to be in natural light; otherwise, it thinks it's time for sleep!
This is because structures deep within your brain use light sensitivity to regulate circadian rhythm. Your pineal gland is responsible for secreting melatonin, a key player in relaxing your body before bedtime. Melatonin and your pineal gland work in tandem with the hypothalamus to get your circadian rhythm in sync. Nocturnal melatonin secretion also improves insulin sensitivity, boosting metabolism.
Seven Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep
For this year’s DST, biohack your brain by getting outside earlier in the days leading up to the switch. Then, the night before, go to bed one hour earlier, says Dr. Zee.
Unfortunately, many things can interfere with good sleep hygiene, from long work schedules to unexpected disruptions and family members’ needs. Being a night shift worker is also a challenge to getting good sleep.
Whatever your situation, you can still balance your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep hygiene with these seven tips:
- Get light during the day, and avoid bright light at night. Circadian rhythm is also affected by behavior, like pre-bedtime habits, and medication.
- Try magnesium before bed. It’s a known natural relaxant and can help calm your body for a better night’s rest. In addition, taking magnesium has been shown to reduce insomnia.
- Have a solid routine. Routines also help with mood. For example, get outside first thing in the morning as part of your routine.
- Exercise during daylight hours. Movement heals, and also aids in sleep homeostasis. Go out and catch those precious early morning rays before you get distracted by a busy day.
- Meditate daily. The benefits of meditation for mood will help motivate you and reduce stress throughout the day. Less stress makes a sleep disruption less likely.
- Relax before bed. Have a soothing nighttime routine, and do your best to stick to it. For example, try listening to relaxing music, sleep hypnosis, or guided muscle relaxation as you drift off.
- Reduce “blue light.” Turn off screens a couple of hours before bed. Hard, I know! But try reading a book instead of binging a series. Or, incorporate the screen shut-off in your bedtime routine by setting your phone alarm across the room. You’ll have to get up to turn the alarm off, forcing your body to start the day actively.
Don’t give up on your sleep health. It’s easier than you think to take your rest back and be empowered to feel your absolute best. Sleep is truly the foundation for optimal wellness.