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Preparing to Spring Ahead

Twice a year almost everyone in the United States is subject to adjusting their schedule by an hour once in the spring and once in the fall.  Usually, a time change of just an hour is not enough to cause a big problem.  The best strategy to adjust quickly is to accept the time change and simply go to bed an hour later.  If you are tired the next day, treat yourself to a nap. 

It is also more important to follow good sleep hygiene habits when you are adjusting your sleep routine.  These habits include:

  • Preparation: Start getting your brain ready for sleep by slowing down and decompressing beginning about one hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid Alcohol:  If you do drink alcohol before going to sleep, you are likely to fall asleep easily but will awaken and have a difficult time falling back to sleep later in the night.
  • Environment: Make sure the room where you are sleeping is quiet, dark, and is a good temperature.
  • Entertainment: Try not to watch TV in your bedroom.  Your bedroom needs to be a quiet, restful place reserved for sleeping.
  • Caffeine: Avoid caffeine a couple of hours before bedtime.  Some people who are highly sensitive may actually need to limit caffeine intake beginning early afternoon.
  • Exercise: Try to get your exercise in earlier in the day.  Regular exercise is linked to better sleep habits but exercising right before bedtime can invigorate you and make falling asleep difficult. 
  • Eating: Watch what and how much you eat right before bed.  Big meals, sugar, spicy foods, or treats that contain caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep.  Additionally, many of these foods may also contribute to reflux, which causes discomfort.

The bigger issue with the hour time change for sleep habits is adjusting to different light/dark times.  You can fool your brain a little by taking some melatonin if you are finding it difficult to fall asleep due to the light.  Melatonin is a natural, non-adictive product that helps your brain fall asleep.

Dr. Barton Schneyer, MD, FCCP, is a pulmonary and sleep medicine physician.