“Falling” into a Healthy Sleep Lifestyle

 

Autumn is officially here, and with it comes beautiful fall foliage and the crisp and cooler “sweater weather” that many of us welcome after the dog days of summer. The shorter days and earlier sunsets mark the nearing of the end of daylight savings time on November 5, 2017—and the inevitable change in our sleep schedules that accompany it. 

Let’s hear it for an extra hour of sleep                                                                                                If taken advantage of, the time change that comes with the fall season can provide many of us with some extra sleep we need and should be getting on a regular basis. For those who have been skimping on sleep—erroneously thinking they can get by on less—perhaps this extra hour can be a much-needed reminder of how good it feels to get the sleep the human body needs for optimal functioning.

Falling back one hour—how are we affected?                                                                                    Time changes in either direction can disrupt our circadian rhythms, our 24-hour body clocks. Unfortunately, even though the fall time change implies a much-needed extra hour of sleep, many people simply end up staying up later, only to wake up earlier. In fact, one review published in 2013 cites a scarcity of evidence that people are really getting an extra hour of sleep with the transition while noting a net loss of sleep the week following the autumn time change. While the effects of the fall time change may be less problematic than the spring time change, a sleep schedule disruption of any type can leave people tired, feeling out of sorts and a bit groggy for several days to a week or more.

Some tips for “falling into” a healthy lifestyle this fall                                                                    Think of the following as a “Fall Sleep-Health Checklist” to ensure your healthy sleep persists through the fall and upcoming winter months:

  • Be consistent: Our bodies like regular sleeping and waking times that allow for sufficient sleep every day of the week. Don’t use the fall time change to stay up later in hopes of making up for it on the weekend.
  • Be bright: Be sure to get some bright light or sunlight in the mornings. Morning light helps people’s body clocks adjust faster to the time change. If getting natural light is a challenge, work near a window if possible. A 2013 study demonstrated that office workers who sat near windows 46 minutes longer than those who didn’t have windows nearby. Conversely, avoid bright light in the evenings that can suppress melatonin production.
  • Be comfortable: Ensure your home sleeping environment and bedding are seasonally appropriate to accommodate temperature changes. If you are in a cold climate or are just cold-natured, switching to flannel sheets may be one of the items on your fall checklist. Alternately, if you are sleeping too hot, regardless of the outside temperature, check into the many new mattress and pillow materials that may provide a cooler and or drier sleep surface. While you’re at it, assess your pillows, mattress, and other bedding items for the need for replacement or upgrading.
  • Be cool: The ideal room temperature for adults for sleep is on the cool side—in the 60-to-70-degree range and depending somewhat on personal preference, clothing, and bedding. Taking a warm bath one to two hours before bedtime will also help you cool down and prepare you for sleep.
  • Be protective: Respect and protect everyone’s biological need for sleep. Ensure that you, your family members, friends, and colleagues get the sleep they need to be healthy and safe and to function optimally. Encourage discussions at home, healthy school start times and educational programs in the classroom and workplace about the critical benefits of sleep.
  • Be active: Regular exercise improves sleep quality and can be helpful in keeping your sleep cycle on track. Aim for some exercise outdoors to maximize exposure to daylight. Find your best time of day for exercise—don’t avoid exercising just because you can’t hit the gym at the crack of dawn. Late afternoon or evening exercise works well for many people and contributes to a good night’s sleep.
  • Be a healthy eater: It is no secret that diet quality influences sleep quality. In fact, sleep and diet enjoy a wonderful bi-directional relationship. A healthy diet supports healthy sleep, while healthy sleep supports a healthy appetite and food choices. A well-balanced diet and making the time for sufficient sleep on a daily basis are a winning combination.
  • Be substance savvy: Avoid alcoholic beverages close to bedtime. While a “nightcap” may help people initially fall asleep, it will end up disrupting sleep later in the night. Also avoid caffeine after lunchtime if possible, so as not to interfere with falling asleep at night. Another downside to excess caffeine is that it can reduce the amount of deep sleep you experience—a vital stage for bodily repair, regrowth, and immunity.
  • Be a napper: A brief afternoon nap or two during the week may be an effective way to restore lost sleep caused by the time change. If you are feeling overly tired during your waking hours in the few days after a time change, take a brief 15–20-minute nap. Avoid longer naps as they can make it more difficult to go to sleep at your regular bedtime.
  • Be safe: Keep in mind that as a result of the change to your sleep schedule, even the “fall back” time change may leave you feeling less alert and feeling as though you are a jet-lagged. Even a slight decrement in performance, combined with earlier darkness and or staying up later, may lead to car accidents. One study published in 2001 revealed an increase in fatal traffic accidents following both fall-back and spring-forward time changes.
  • Be happy: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression brought on by a lack of sunlight. As daylight hours grow shorter, a person with SAD can experience fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. If you experience any of these symptoms, discuss them with your healthcare provider, who may recommend light therapy for SAD management.
  • Be proactive: If you are making the time for sufficient sleep but still finding it elusive long after the clocks have changed, seek help from a sleep specialist. Don’t ignore persistent sleep problems. Sleep is so fundamental to our overall health and well-being that it should be considered a vital sign—and discussed at every healthcare encounter.

Time Changes: A reminder to “check off” sufficient sleep                                                             Keep in mind that anything that disrupts your sleep schedule—whether it’s a daylight saving time change, a business trip, or a new baby—means you may not be functioning optimally, so take the necessary steps to get your sleep. One of the healthiest decisions you can make to ensure your personal safety and well-being and that of your family members, friends, and colleagues is never to underestimate the power of sleep. Whether we are “falling back” in the fall or “springing forward” six months later, putting sufficient sleep at the top of your to-do list will ensure a healthy lifestyle year-round.

 

Blogger: Terry Cralle MS, RN, CPHQ

@PowerOfSleep

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