Time to change the clocks: How to make it work for your sleep routine
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, November 2, 2013 8:12AM EDT
With the clocks about to fall back an hour this Sunday, busy Canadians will be given the rare luxury of an extra hour of sleep. But Dr. Charles Samuels, the medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary and a CIHR-funded researcher, is worried that many Canadians will not take advantage.
Samuels says many Canadians are chronically sleep-deprived already, and even when they are handed the gift of an extra hour of sleep through the odd machinations of timekeeping, they often fail to use it.
For most Canadians, the clock switch of the fall is a lot easier than the 'spring forward' switch in March, which is when we lose an hour's sleep. Still, there are a few people who actually struggle with moving the clocks back an hour:
Parents of young children - Any parent who has claimed quiet victory for establishing a good sleep schedule for their kids knows that time changes can ruin everything. And parents know that children tend to wake up at their usual times, regardless of whether the clock now reads 6 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. So for many parents, there's no extra sleep, just a more difficult bedtime come Sunday night.
Insomniacs - One would think that those who have trouble sleeping would welcome an extra hour. And as Dr. Samuels notes, more light in the morning is good for helping insomniacs wake up properly. The problem, he says, is that the days are starting to get shorter too "and the onset of winter darkness is hard for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder or winter depression." Those who are depressed will feel the winter change, he says, "and that just exacerbates insomnia."
His advice for those who often have trouble getting to sleep is to go to bed later over the weekend so they don't spend their extra hour struggling to fall asleep and then adjust slowly to the new time on the clock over the course of the week
Drivers - The clocks falling back an hour also means that it will get dark earlier. That can mean that afternoon commutes that were once in daylight could now be in darkness. Every year around this time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. cautions drivers and pedestrians to be more alert after the switch to Standard Time.
Many having trouble adjusting to new sleep schedules might be tempted to try melatonin supplements, which have become highly popular in recent years. But Samuels doesn't recommend their use for people without diagnosed sleep disorders.
"Melatonin is not recommended for something like the time change. It's really only for those with clear insomnia problems," Samuels says. "And that's usually night owls: those with a delayed sleep-phase. They have circadian rhythm sleep disorders. For them, routine use of melatonin can help."
When healthy people try to supplement with melatonin, they can run into two problems, he says. The first is that they buy the wrong type.
Health Canada classifies melatonin as a natural health product, so the products are not as regulated like other pharmaceutical drugs. Samuels notes that many of the melatonin products sold at health stores can be contaminated with other substances (A recent study found that's a problem in a lot of dietary supplements). He suggests only buying melatonin supplements that have a DIN (Drug Identification Number) and are sold at a pharmacy.
The other problem, Samuels says, is that most people take far too much melatonin -- in the range of 10 to 12 mg, when there's no need to take more than 1 to 3 mg. More is not more, he says, "because it just increases the risk for side effects, such as sedation during the day and bad nightmares at night."
The National Sleep Foundation, a U.S. non-profit that supports sleep-related education and research, offers these tips to help ease the adjustment to standard time:
- Maintain your regular bedtime Saturday night, when clocks move back, and wake up at your regular clock time on Sunday morning. So if you always wake at 7 a.m., continue to do so, even though you can tell yourself it's really 8 a.m.
- Since standard time causes the sun to rise about an hour earlier, block out light and keep your sleeping area dark. Light can disturb sleep, so it is always best to sleep in a darkened room
- Increase the light as soon as you wake up. Light has an alerting affect that helps us to awaken. It will also help adjust your biological clock to the "new" sleep schedule.
- Still having trouble? Try staying awake an extra 15 minutes every one to two days to get used to the new schedule
The Canadian Pediatric Society offers these tips for helping teens get more sleep -- and many of them are just as applicable to adults:
- Get exercise every day, but avoid hard exercise in the evening.
- Limit screen time before bed. Being exposed to the screen's light before trying to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep. Late night chatting and social media interaction can also excite the mind and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine, such as in coffee drinks, teas and colas after mid-afternoon.
- Use your bed for sleeping only. Avoid doing homework, using a computer or watching TV while in bed.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet but open the curtains or turn on the lights as soon as you get up in the morning.
- Try to get up within 2 hours of your usual wake time on weekends, no matter how late you go to bed.