Daylight Saving Time, compounded with Canadians’ penchant for not getting enough sleep at night, can lead to “very important consequences” for your health if you do not adequately prepare yourself, sleep expert Dr. Julie Carrier says.

“The time change in the spring is quite demanding for your biological clock,” Carrier, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded scientist at Montreal’s Centre for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, told CTVNews.ca.

“In a population that is already chronically sleep deprived, even if one hour doesn’t seem to be a lot of sleep deprivation, when it’s on the top of a chronic sleep debt, people will feel it quite a bit.”

With the exception of most of Saskatchewan, Canadians will be losing an hour of sleep when we put our clocks ahead at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Twenty-five per cent of Canadians, Carrier adds, suffer from a sleep disorder. That, she says, creates a significant “public health cost.”

“The challenge is to keep healthy sleep habits throughout the year, and this is the message for me that is the most important,” Carrier, who is also the director of the Canadian Sleep and Circadian Network and a professor at the University of Montreal, said.

“In the perfect world situation, in terms of biology, I would prefer that we don’t need to submit ourselves twice a year to time change.”

HOW SLEEP DEPRIVATION AFFECTS YOUR HEALTH

While sleep deprivation may affect your productivity and sense of wellbeing in the short-term, Carrier says your sleep patterns today will also impact your long-term physical, cognitive and emotional health.

“People do not realize that to sleep seven to nine hours every night is essential -- and as essential for good physical health than it is to do a physical activity or eat well,” Carrier explained. “And if people do not respect that at some point in time, they will pay the price.”

Working-age Canadians, Carrier adds, “do not put sleep as a major priority.”

“And because of that, there is an accumulated sleep debt -- a chronic sleep debt -- in the young population and this has some very important consequences,” she said. “It impacts almost every physiological function of your body.”

That includes cardiovascular problems, a decreased immune system and a reduced ability for your body to cope with stress.

“It will not allow your brain to consolidate your memory correctly,” Carrier added. “Sleep deprivation may also even impact the development of dementia.”

HOW TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME

The next time the clocks move forward, Carrier recommends preparing yourself several days in advance by going to bed and waking up a little earlier each day before Daylight Saving Time. At the very least, she suggests going to sleep and rising earlier by 15 minutes intervals until you reach that one hour time difference.

“The biological clock is quite able to adapt to a one hour phase advance, but usually it takes time,” Carrier said. “The earlier you start to prepare, the better it is.”

Exposing yourself to morning light when you get up is also incredibly helpful, she adds.

“The way that your body adapts to a time change is with the light-dark cycle,” Carrier explained. “In order to make your biological clock advance, you need to expose yourself as much as possible to light, especially in the spring to morning light.”

In a similar vein, exposing yourself to too much light at night can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep.

“Light in the evening and light even from the computer or electronic devices is also stimulating during the night and pushing your biological clock to go later,” Carrier said. “So if you have to wake up early and you are already have a tendency to go to bed late, the worst thing to do is to stimulate yourself with light, electronic devices, or social interaction too much prior to going to bed.”

As for over-the-counter sleep aids like antihistamines or melatonin, Carrier says, “Never use them without talking to your doctor or healthcare professional.”

Carrier also says that daytime naps can be effective if you are sleep deprived, but trying to simply make up for a week of poor sleep by staying in bed late on the weekend won’t cut it.

“You cannot recuperate entirely,” Carrier said.

And if all of this seems too cumbersome or difficult for you, Carrier has two simple solutions for adjusting to Daylight Saving Time this weekend.

“Make sure that you sleep well tonight,” she advised. “And expose yourself to light in the morning.”