Spring Forward: Daylight saving time can cause problems in sleep cycle

Ruthie Robison, Lifestyles Editor, Greenwood Commonwealth


Many may be reaching for the snooze button Sunday morning when the dock will “spring forward” an hour.

The effects of the loss of that one hour and transitioning into a different sleeping pattern can often be felt for days.

“We have enough evidence from studies that have shown it can affect your sleep and your quality of life,” said Dr. Rohit Panchal, who is the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Greenwood Leflore Hospital.

Daylight saving time will begin at 2 a.m. Sunday, and the following Monday morning after the time change is usually when the transition is felt the most for adults and children who are waking up for work and school.

“Any change in time can affect your sleep,” said Panchal. “Many studies have shown that during daylight saving time the body does not change that quickly with spring forward.”

Panchal said that insufficient rest can cause one to feel sleepy and tired during the daytime, which can affect work or school performance.

“We all have circadian rhythm, which is our normal biological sleep cycle,” said Panchal. “So whenever it is dark, your brain will secrete melatonin. That’s how you go to sleep. When there’s a bright light, melatonin secretion will go down, which means it’s time to wake up. Any change in the time zone or daylight saving time can potentially affect your circadian rhythm.”

Sleep is just as important to health as a balanced diet and exercise. When lacking sufficient sleep, a person is more likely to suffer from a number of health problems, ranging from mild anxiety to a heart attack. In order to repair and regulate itself, the body must have quality sleep.

“A good night’s sleep is very important for the well-being of a person,” said Panchal. “Unfortunately, with all the stress of work and devices, a lot of people are not getting enough sleep or a poor quality of sleep.”

Panchal said sleep deprivation can affect a person in a variety of ways.

“It affects your quality of life, it affects your cognitive function, it affects your work duty,” he said. “People who are sleep deprived or get insufficient sleep, less than six hours, are more at risk of cardiovascular disease.”

For transitioning an hour ahead, Panchal recommends maintaining good sleep habits and a good sleep schedule, avoiding bright light while in bed and exposure to bright light in the morning.

“I always tell our patients not to have any TV in the bedroom, no cellphone or any device in the bed,” said Panchal. “Any bright light imaging device can disrupt your sleep. Melatonin is released in dim light or a dark environment, and bright light can disrupt that and disrupt your sleep.”

Panchal said any bright light imaging device, such as a tablet, TV or cellphone, has potential to disrupt sleep.

“The most common reason now we see young people with insomnia is because of using cellphones, and they are on social media for hours in the night,” he said.

For those who may suffer from a disrupted sleep pattern because of “springing forward,” Panchal said a melatonin supplement can be useful.

“You can always try something like melatonin, which is a normal hormone secreted by the brain to induce sleep, that is available over the counter,” he said “It may help you go to sleep earlier and ward off sleep deprivation because of the time change.”

The use of the supplement is only intended for a short period of time until the body’s internal clock adapts to the time change, about a week or two.

For a restful sleep, Panchal also recommends at night avoiding caffeinated beverages and alcohol and doing something soothing or calming, such as listening to music or reading.

People who have sleeping problems not only during daylight saving time but also year-round may actually be suffering from a sleep disorder.

“Signs that you’re not getting restful sleep are mental fatigue or brain fog, excessive daytime sleepiness, drowsiness throughout the day,” said Glenda Thomas, manager of the Sleep Disorders Center at Greenwood Leflore Hospital. “Maybe you have high blood pressure. Maybe you’ve gained a lot of weight. It’s all these things combined when people usually can tell that they are just not getting good sleep.”

Thomas said when someone doesn’t feel as rested even after eight hours of sleep, it’s time to talk to a primary care provider. A referral for a sleep study, such as the ones she performs at the sleep center, may be needed.

“Have you ever went to sleep and woke up and felt like, I just had the best sleep? That’s restorative sleep,” said Thomas. “Most people (with a sleep disorder) don’t get up and feel like that. They can go to bed and sleep for eight hours and feel as if they hadn’t slept at all.”

A common sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, in which breathing actually stops temporarily during sleep.

“Sleep apnea is becoming very prevalent in our country right now,” said Panchal. “Some studies have shown that as many as 10 to 15 percent of the population has sleep apnea. Sleep apnea has been proven to be a risk factor for a variety of medical conditions, such as hypertension, congestive heart failure and stroke.”

During sleep, the throat and nasal passages relax. In some people, these passages close off and inhibit oxygen flow. Snoring is a mild manifestation of this occurrence. But in some cases, breathing can stop temporarily.

“Imagine eight hours of this without you ever going into the restorative part of sleep, which is stage 3 and stage 4, or REM sleep, because your brain is having to keep reminding you all night long to keep breathing,” said Thomas.

One of the top risk factors for sleep apnea is being overweight or obese.

“So lifestyle changes can definitely have an impact on sleep apnea,” said Panchal. “Diet, exercise and weight loss help with sleep apnea and can improve mild sleep apnea for many people. Once they lose weight, it will not resolve for every patient, but it can improve, and a small percentage of patients it does resolve.”

Healthy lifestyle changes and good sleep hygiene — the recommendations Panchal suggested for having good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness — can also improve insomnia and sleep deprivation.

“Once they improve their lifestyles, they do sleep better,” said Panchal.

Thomas, who has been working at the Sleep Disorders Center for 14 years and has been a registered polysomnographic technologist since 2012, said restorative sleep is essential to good health.

“It is the most important out of all the things that you can do,” she said. “If you’re not sleeping, your blood pressure is going to be up, you’re going to have mental fog, you’re not going to be able to concentrate, you’re going to be tired. … It can affect your day-to-day life.”