Get more Zs: Sleeping more can improve your health

by Randy Almanzar, MD

Spring offers hope – improved weather, singing birds, and increased daylight.

With it, comes the dreaded Daylight Savings Time. We manipulate the clock, starting the day earlier, to add daylight to the afternoon. And while Daylight Savings makes spring feel – well, more spring-y – shifting our sleep can be tough.

We sleep and wake on what are called circadian rhythms, which are triggered by our exposure to light and darkness.

Your body produces melatonin – a hormone which triggers sleep - when you are exposed to darkness. Exposure to light suppresses the production of melatonin – and you wake up.

Getting enough sleep – and enough quality sleep – is an important part of your overall health. We all know that being tired can dramatically impact our mood, our judgment and our reaction time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

As we transition to Daylight Savings Time, here are a few tips to help you readjust your internal clock and clean up your sleep schedule.

  • Start adjusting your bedtime several days before you switch you clock back. Move bedtime up by 15 minutes, so that when it’s time to change the clocks, you’ve added extra time to your sleep schedule so that you’re not losing an hour of sleep.
  • Get more exercise. Exercise is good for you – every day, all year round – and helps improve your overall health. It also helps you sleep: regularly getting enough exercise helps tire your body out so that you’re ready to sleep at bedtime. Make sure that you’re exercising early enough in the day, though – squeezing in a workout too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Avoid using smartphones, tablets, computers, and other electronic devices close to bedtime. Studies have found that the blue light emitted by many devices can suppress the production of melatonin and delay the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important to getting a good night’s rest.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine, sugar, and alcohol late in the evening. If you’re hungry, have a small snack – consuming large amounts of food is likely to make you uncomfortable when you lie down.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Establish a bedtime routine that helps prepare you – and your body – for bed. Do things that relax you – read a book or take a bath. Make time to unwind and to mentally prepare for sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night will help your body establish a pattern for melatonin production, and will help ensure that you stay asleep and sleep well.

Randy Almanzar, MD, is a primary care physician with AtlantiCare Primary Care Plus.