Every year around this time people start coming into my clinic complaining of sleep disturbances. They find themselves not being able to get to sleep at night and then feeling groggy and unrested in the morning. This phenomenon is interesting and shows us just how sensitive humans are to changes in our schedules and changes in light.
As a matter of fact, there are research papers that show that traffic accidents increase up to a week after the changes both in the fall and spring.
Every fall we set our clocks back one hour and daylight savings ends for all of us. For a select few, this change can affect how they feel greatly. And it’s not just psychological. This shift in time means that it will be lighter in the morning and darker in the evening. While this may not seem like such a big deal, peoples’ body clocks don’t always adjust right away and this can affect how we feel.
For instance, many hormones that we secrete are timed with our body clocks. If our body clocks shift out of balance, our hormone balance may shift as well. Two great examples are melatonin and cortisol.
Cortisol is highest in the morning and lowest at night. With a shift in sleep habits, this rhythm is thrown off as well. Symptoms may include fatigue, changes in blood sugar and feelings of a foggy mind. For most this is a temporary condition and once the body adapts to the time change, the natural circadian rhythm of cortisol production returns as well. If it does not or the symptoms are particularly annoying one thing you can do is make sure you eat regularly. Cortisol helps elevate blood sugar when it begins to drop to low so eating regularly will take the strain off of your cortisol system and allow it to focus on re-regulating itself.
Melatonin is particularly interesting. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is secreted during darkness. Thus, with the increase in light in the early morning hours your melatonin levels are likely to drop off quickly and wake you earlier than you’d like. This is problematic because it is often hard to get back to sleep once melatonin levels have dropped. On the flip side, melatonin levels are likely to rise too early in the evening making you feel like it is time to sleep when it’s not. A great way to combat this physiological mix up is to take melatonin just before you go to bed (30-60 minutes prior). I recommend taking a very small amount because research has shown that large amounts can have the opposite effect. Take about 1.5mg before bed. This will temporarily increase your melatonin levels and allow you to get better quality sleep and signal your body that it needs to re-regulate its melatonin production.
It should only take about a week for your body to adapt to the change. If it takes longer, you might have a true sleep disorder and should consider having it evaluated. Try these helpful hints first though!