Springing Forward: This Year, Getting Enough Sleep is Even More of a Health Issue
4 min. read
“Daylight saving time” (DST) returns officially on Sunday at 2 a.m. It’s the first “Spring forward” time change — meaning we lose an extra hour of sleep by moving our clocks forward by an hour — since the pandemic officially began one year ago this month.
For those who suffer some degree of a sleep disorder year-round, the last 12 months has likely added to the factors that can disrupt a healthy sleep of at least seven hours a night as recommended for most adults. It’s not just about losing or gaining one hour in the Spring and Fall — undisrupted sleep cycles throughout the year can be a symptom of an underlying health issue, and they can worsen many pre-existing conditions.
Disruptions throughout the night — or just not getting enough sleep — can contribute to being overweight and intensify chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Even before the pandemic and its accompanying stress and anxiety, U.S. adults were not getting enough “shut eye.”
The pervasiveness of electronic devices — smartphones, tablets and laptops — has contributed to unhealthy habits that keep us awake later, and interrupts extremely valuable sleep time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that people get at least seven hours of sleep during the night.
“Clearly, as a society we’re not getting enough sleep,” says Jeremy Tabak, M.D., a Baptist Health sleep medicine physician and medical director for the Galloway Sleep Center. “There was a recent National Sleep Foundation survey which showed that a third of adults get less than seven hours routinely on weeknights. We know that has a significant impact because sleep deprivation affects us in many different ways.”
Not getting enough sleep loss is associated with changes in several immune processes, states American Academy of Sleep Medicine in a statement. Poor sleep may weaken your defenses against a virus, and it may affect how your body responds to a vaccine, the organization says. That’s why sleep deprivation during the COVID-19 pandemic is especially risky.
“As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, it is of utmost importance that patients continue to prioritize their sleep to maintain optimal health,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Kannan Ramar, M.D. “Getting sufficient, high-quality sleep on a regular basis strengthens your body’s immune system and optimizes your response to a vaccine.”
Every patient’s sleep disorder is unique and requires specialized attention. But there are a few factors that contribute to common disorders fueled by a lack of sleep, from insomnia to occasional sleep disruptions, says Timothy Grant, M.D., medical director, Baptist Health Sleep Centers.
Hectic work and family schedules during weekdays fuel the popular practice of “sleeping in” on weekends, or sleeping later than usual. But even that break in the routine, which may seem beneficial, may actually contribute to chronic sleep problems, says Dr. Grant, who is a neurologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
There are other somewhat surprising factors — including caffeine consumption early in the day, mid-day naps and exercising late in the day — that can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to insomnia or intermittent sleep disruptions, says Dr. Grant.
“A lot of things have caffeine and people don’t know it,” he says. “Like energy drinks that people consume during the day. And as you get older, sometimes caffeine can have an effect on you 10 hours later. So, you can have a cup of coffee with your lunch, and it can keep you up later at night. Again, that depends on the patient.
Napping in the afternoon can backfire as well. “Naps aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you have insomnia, a nap can reset your clock so you get this second-wind phenomenon. and you feel great,” explains Dr. Grant. “But then you have trouble falling asleep at night.”
As is generally accepted, regular exercise prolongs life and can help treat or prevent heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. But the time of exercise routines should be carefully planned. You should not exercise too close to bedtime. Exercise at least two hours or longer before you usually fall asleep.
Healthy Sleep Tips
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), taking the following steps can lead to a better night’s sleep and improve overall health:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends if possible. This routine helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A quiet and calming activity, such as reading, right before bedtime is best achieved away from bright lights to help separate sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety. For this reason, computer screens of any size should be avoided just before going to sleep.
- Disconnect. Turn off TVs and computers, and put down tablets and cell phones, two hours prior to going to bed.
- Avoid mid-day naps, especially in the afternoon. So-called power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short naps can help.
- Exercise daily. Moderately intense exercise is best, according to the American Heart Association, and light exercise is better than no activity, but refrain from exercising in the four hours before going to sleep. The first signal that the body is ready to go to sleep is body temperature. Exercise raises body temperature.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the best conditions for sound sleep. Your bedroom should be comfortably cool and free from any noise or light that can disturb your sleep.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. This may sound obvious, but it’s important. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Comfortable pillows are also important.
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