Here comes the sun, there goes your sleep.
Groggy Canadians still rubbing their eyelids this morning are likely feeling the effects of daylight time, the annual rite of setting the clocks forward one hour in the run-up to spring.
But the consequences of the 60-minute switch-over can be serious.
University of British Columbia sleep researchers documented a five to seven per cent increase in traffic accident fatalities during the three days following spring forward.
Another study, published in 2011 by University of Alabama at Birmingham scientists, found a 10 per cent spike in the risk of heart attacks in the 48 hours following spring forward. (There was a 10 per cent decrease in heart-attack risk in the "fall back" period when we give ourselves an extra hour of shut-eye.)
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"The changing of the clocks is always an interesting time. The one in the fall is quite boring because it's just a bonus hour for everybody," says Dr. James MacFarlane, a sleep specialist with the SleepMed clinic in Toronto.
"It's the change in the spring that's much more problematic."
Managing your sleep patterns is key to coping with the lost hour of sack time. Here are a few tips from the experts:
Stick to the routine
Bedtime habits that worked before should work an hour earlier.
"Any routine that you usually follow, it's a good idea to start advancing that routine," MacFarlane says.
Psychological cues such as brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas or reading in bed can help to trigger the wind-down feeling, notes Dr. Richard Leung, director of the sleep laboratory at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital.
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"To some extent, you can fool your body by applying that stimulus response," Leung said.
Try the 15-minute rule
As much as we can plan for daylight time by heading to bed earlier, it's often unrealistic to expect deep sleep to hit at an unnatural hour.
"Here's where a good, strong body clock kind of works against you," Leung says. "You can advance your clock, but it's easier to do it by 15 minutes."
Advancing sleep by 15 minutes each night should mitigate the effects day by day. By the end of a week, Leung says, most people's bodies will have readjusted.
Warm up the tummy
Sipping a nice, hot beverage such as a non-caffeinated herbal tea about half an hour before bedtime promotes comfort, and the drink can act as a sleeping aid. The resulting boost in body temperature can have the same drowsy-inducing effect of taking a warm bath.
Much has been written about how warm milk can lull one to sleep. But the claim that this is due to the sleep-inducing enzyme tryptophan in milk has been disproven by the scientific literature, MacFarlane said.
"The whole warm milk thing is more about it being a signal to your body that it's bedtime," he says, noting "you'd have to drink like five gallons of milk to get the amount of tryptophan needed to get sleepy enough."
A darkened bedroom isn't much of a sleep sanctuary if a smartphone or tablet display is still glowing.
'It has to be gradual. It's probably better to actually go with your natural rhythm and then slowly try to move it into sync with the change of the clock.' - Dr. Robert Levitan, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
A 2014 British National Institutes of Health survey found that people who used their iPads before bedtime secreted less of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, compared to those who read regular books.
The study said that the "blue light" from backlit screens was shown to throw off circadian rhythms by more than an hour.
"The presence of the lights, especially at full brightness, can be like doing photo light therapy, but at the wrong time," MacFarlane says.
If someone feels they must use their electronic devices in bed, MacFarlane suggests dimming the screens to the lowest level so it won't have as much of a straining effect on the retinas.
Don't force it
If there's no motivation to sleep, there's little point in stressing over it, says Dr. Robert Levitan, a senior scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
The non-profit Better Sleep Council suggests getting up after 20 minutes instead of lying awake and fretting about potential lost sleep.
"It has to be gradual. It's probably better to actually go with your natural rhythm and then slowly try to move it into sync with the change of the clock," Levitan says, adding people generally need an hour or so less sleep in the spring and summer months.
"So people shouldn't feel bad if they're sleeping a little less," he said.
If you want to mark your calendar now so that you don't get caught off-guard by the next time change, here's the schedule through 2019:
- 2015: Spring forward Sunday, March 8 at 2 a.m. Fall back Sunday, Nov. 1 at 2 a.m.
- 2016: Spring forward Sunday, March 13 at 2 a.m. Fall back Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 a.m.
- 2017: Spring forward Sunday, March 12 at 2 a.m. Fall back Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 a.m.
- 2018: Spring forward Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m. Fall back Sunday, Nov. 4 at 2 a.m.
- 2019: Spring forward Sunday, March 10 at 2 a.m. Fall back Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 a.m.
The Better Sleep Council of Canada has a list of other recommendations, including setting thermostats to 16 Celsius for a sleep-conducive environment, getting adequate exercise, wearing comfortable nightwear and creating a restful bedroom atmosphere.