By Katie Kerns
You've got good reason to dread turning your clocks ahead this weekend, and it's not just because you'll wake up a littler groggier.
Research shows that losing an hour of sleep during the spring Daylight Saving Time change (time skips ahead one hour at 2 AM this Sunday, March 13) is a bigger deal than you might think. A 2008 New England Journal of Medicine study found that the incidence of heart attacks significantly increased in the three workdays following the switch. (Conversely, heart attack rates dipped in the fall when we gained an hour of sleep). According to the researchers, disruption in the body's circadian rhythm may have taken a toll on heart health.
Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns that drowsy driving leads to nearly 17 percent of fatal crashes and 25 percent of car-accident-related deaths occur in low-light environments. If you've gotten used to a sunny morning commute, driving in a dimmer setting can compromise your alertness and safety.
But you can protect your health this weekend by using a few smart tricks to minimize your sleep loss. Follow this hour-by-hour plan from leading sleep specialists.
- 6 Hours Before Bedtime: Quit the Coffee
If you're caffeine sensitive and consume it late in the day, the stimulant can prevent you from falling asleep at night, says Tracey Marks, MD, psychiatrist and author of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified.
4 Hours Before: Put a Cap on Nightcaps
Think booze helps you snooze? Turns out, alcohol decreases slow-wave sleep - the restorative kind you need to wake up feeling refreshed and alert. For maximum rest, Dr. Breus suggests teetotaling the entire week before Daylight Saving Time.
2-3 Hours Before: Change Your Clocks
Don't wait to turn your clocks forward on Sunday morning when you wake up, says Dr. Marks. "If you do it in the evening the night before, the time change won't be as much of a shock on your body," she says.
1 Hour Before: Log Off
Turn off the electronics - that means no more Facebook, TV, or texting. "This isn't the time to catch up on work e-mail," says Aparajitha Verma, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston. Marks also recommends that you stop drinking fluids at this time (so a full bladder won't wake you up and disrupt your slumber).
Now's a good time to dim the lights in your home and create a relaxing, sleep-friendly environment, says Marks. Read a book, cue up soothing music, or take a dunk in the bathtub. The dip in body temperature that follows gets your brain in sleep mode.
Bedtime: Lights Out
Lights out means just that - all lights should be turned off. "Our body clocks are regulated by temperature and light," says Marks. Cool the temperature in your room to 68 to 74 degrees. If you tend to overheat when you sleep (common in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women) consider turning on a fan.
1 Hour After Waking Up: Soak Up Some Sunshine
Exposure to bright light first thing in the morning cues your body to stop churning out the "sleep hormone" melatonin. Take a 20-minute stroll with your family or friends to start the day with some spring in your step.
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