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7 tips for better sleep

How to not get left behind on sleep once we “spring ahead”

The return of Daylight Savings Time and the annual “spring ahead” tradition is this Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m.

For some, the lost hour of sleep that comes by moving the clock ahead can be jarring, said Novant Health sleep specialist Dr. Nancy Behrens.

“One way to help your body adjust to the earlier schedule is to avoid sleeping in when the clocks change,” Behrens said. “If you sleep in, it makes it harder to get to sleep early enough and get enough sleep. Getting exposure to bright, natural light in the morning after the time changes also helps your internal clock to reset and get back on schedule.”

Behrens said it’s natural to have some trouble falling asleep at the earlier time at first or to feel groggier in the mornings as your internal clock adjusts. 

She especially encourages everyone to be extra alert when driving early next week, noting a few studies have suggested there are more accidents in the week after daylight savings time starts. “If you are not feeling alert, please do not operate a motor vehicle,” Behrens said.

If the time change, throws off your sleep, here are some helpful tips from Behrens to help get your sleep back on track:

 1: Get a regular dose of sunlight

“Getting outside in green space with trees and nature each day for about 15 minutes can lead to a better night’s sleep,” said Behrens. The bright, natural light helps the brain to know that it’s daytime so that later that night it is able to ramp up production of melatonin, the sleep hormone which helps us to fall asleep. Light boxes that simulate sunshine can also be helpful during short winter days.    

 2: Another reason to eat better

Eating habits can play a role in how well we sleep. Data shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar throughout the day is linked with lighter, less restorative sleep. “A diet high in fiber and protein like fruits, vegetables, beans, brown rice and whole grains can improve sleep,” said Behrens.  

 3: Sip in moderation

While alcohol may help us fall asleep faster, it can be disruptive to sleep, especially in the second half of the sleep cycle. “One glass of wine in the evening with dinner is fine for most people, but anything beyond this can decrease deep sleep and increase arousals from sleep,” said Behrens. It takes time for your body to metabolize one drink, so finish your last sip at least two hours before bed. 

 4: Keep it cool   

Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room because the coolness helps trigger a drop in body temperature, which signals the body to produce melatonin. “The body has an internal temperature level that it needs to reach; and, the ideal room temperature to help the body achieve this is about 65 degrees,” said Behrens.

 5: Get comfortable with silence  

Take time to reflect and sit quietly each day without distractions. “It is important to get comfortable in the quiet,” said Behrens. If you are not use to silence, you might find your mind racing at night when it’s time for bed. And if you do find that you can’t shut off your mind once you are in bed, keep a notebook handy and make a list of things you need to accomplish the next day to settle your brain.        

6: Breathe deeply and dim the lights    

Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a good way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare the body for sleep. “Deep breathing helps reduce your heart rate and blood pressure and relaxes your body,” said Behrens. Bring down the lights. Dimness signals the biological clock that it’s time to wind down.

7: The more comfy, the better

 “You want your body to associate your bed with sleep and not television, cell phones and tablets,” said Behrens. Making your bed comfortable, clean and inviting can really help as well.

When you can’t sleep

“Don’t panic when occasional sleeplessness strikes,” said Behrens. “You can start deep, slow breathing relaxation exercises and focus on just being comfortable.” Alternately, you can get out of bed and read a book or magazine with lights dimmed, or something else relaxing and non-stimulating that won’t make your body think it’s time to wake up.  

If you have tried all of the lifestyle tips above and are still having difficulties with falling and/or staying asleep, you may want to speak with your primary care physician or consult a sleep specialist.  

Published: 3/1/2018