Californians will again lose out on an hour of sleep on Sunday as clocks move forward an hour in observance of daylight saving time, an annual rite that leaves many people feeling sluggish for a few days or even a couple weeks.

This time shift disrupts the internal master clock that humans and other mammals have inside their brains, a crucial natural biorhythm that a sleep doctor and circadian scientist described as “exquisitely attuned” to the sun’s movement.

If people lived on solar time, as animals do, their bodies wouldn’t face quite so many health challenges, said chronobiologist Joanna Chiu of the University of California, Davis.

“A lot of our work activities and a lot of our entertainment ac tivities (are) preventing us from living the way that our body is designed to live,” said Chiu, vice chair of UC Davis’ Department of Entomology and Nematology. “And a lot of the metabolic diseases (like) diabetes, a lot of the sleep disruptions or deprivation, a lot of the things that we encounter today that disrupt our health are because we’re not really living the life that our body is designed to live.”

Dr. Lydia Wytrzes, medical director of the Sutter Sleep Center in Sacramento, said that while daylight saving time assures Americans of an additional hour of daylight to do personal business after work, scientists have now learned that this convenience comes with a price: a spike in car accidents in the morning, an increase in suicides, as numerous health risks, including those that Chiu cited.

“Because there maybe are some shifts in hormonal or immunological function, which is out of sync with this clock, there can be some increased deaths that occur for a few days around this shift, particularly cardiovascular,” Wytrzes said. “Heart attacks are the most common thing you see, but there also can be some emotional disturbance.”

She and Chiu have a few suggestions for people who want to avoid the sluggishness and potential health risks of the biannual time changes that have time jumping forward an hour in March and falling back an hour in November:

 

Gradually shift your bedtime

Scientists have removed the area of rats’ brains that control the body’s internal master clock, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, Wytrzes said, and they have kept it alive to study it in a petri dish. They found that it still shifts between sleep and wake cycles, even if removed from the body, she said.

“Your (internal) clock doesn’t understand you’ve switched to daylight savings time, and it is still on its own internal, automatic, clock for ... wakefulness and for sleep,” she said.

Consequently, you may experience fatigue or lethargy if you go to bed at the same time this Saturday as you did the week earlier, Wytrzes said.

Begin now to prepare for the time change, Wytrzes advised, by moving up your bedtime in 15-minute increments daily for several days ahead of the change. So if your bedtime is normally 10 p.m., aim to incrementally tuck earlier through the weekend. On Sunday, when the clock says 10 p.m., Wytrzes said, your internal clock won’t feel quite so out of alignment when you go to bed and when you wake.

 

Follow solar time all the time

Chiu used to think she was a night owl, and she was active often late into the night, staying up long past sunset. But, as she delved more into the study of mammals’ internal clocks, she realized that human bodies actually weren’t made for that kind of sleep-wake cycle.

“I changed a lot of what I do in my own life. I actually sleep much better, and ... in the morning, I get up without an alarm clock because that’s the natural way our bodies should react,” she said. “When the sun comes up, we wake up, and when the sun goes down, we should go to bed.”

This doesn’t mean humans have to go to bed earlier in winter when the sun sets earlier, she said, because the body recognizes this seasonal shift and expects activity for a longer period after sunset.

Because California is on the western edge of the Pacific time zone, residents here are likely to feel a greater misalignment in their biorhythms than others whose clocks show the same local time. Nevada state residents, for instance, will have had longer exposure to the sun by the time it rises in the Golden State.

“If you want to be really in touch with your body and be healthy and live a...healthier life, don’t always follow the social time,” Chiu said. “That sometimes is misleading. Follow the solar time. So, follow the sun.”

 

Prepare yourself for sleep

Having trouble getting to sleep? As a society, Wytrzes said, Americans tend to be pretty sleep-deprived. There are steps, though, that everyone can take to improve their ability to get to sleep.

Experiment with cutting off caffeine. Some people can drink coffee or colas until 4 p.m. and still get a good night’s sleep, she said, but others may need to cut it off earlier. Given the time change this weekend, Wytrzes said, everyone probably could benefit from cutting off consumption of these caffeine-rich beverages several hours earlier than the usual time.

Also limit your time in front of mobile phones and other handheld screens an hour before bedtime, Wytrzes said, because those devices affect the production of melatonin. The hormone is basically “the body’s natural sleeping pill,” Wytrzes said, and low amounts of it can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

“If you cannot sleep at all without some electronic device, I will tell you that a TV not right in your face but in your room is better than any kind of handheld electronic device,” she said.

Your mobile phone, however, could actually be a sleep aid if you have downloaded a relaxation app onto it, Wytrzes said. Those apps offer breathing exercises, sleep exercises or meditation courses that can shut off the brain and help users to fall asleep.

Prayer also may be a source of relaxation in this same way, she said, giving people an opportunity to unload worries or anxieties onto a higher power and gain the comfort they need to shut down.

 

Sleeping in on Sunday? Big mistake

If you do end up going to bed late this Saturday, Wytrzes and Chiu said, don’t sleep in on Sunday because that will only make you more sluggish.

“It’s going to make it difficult to fall asleep Sunday night,” Wytrzes said. “So try to wake up at your new wake time. And if you just really can’t handle it during the day, think about a short nap like a 15 or 20 minute nap in the afternoon, setting an alarm, so you get up.”

Midday naps should not extend to an hour or two, Chiu said, explaining that you can’t recover sleep you have lost, and trying to do so can cause jet lag.

“A lot of people ... sleep in on the weekends,” she said. “That’s something called social jet lag. ... If you tend to try to recover your sleep on the weekends, because on weekdays you don’t pick it up because of work, it’s almost equivalent to actually flying to different coasts in the US over the weekend and then coming back. You’re changing your time schedule.”

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