When Daylight Savings Time starts again on March 9, as we “spring forward” an hour, brain health warriors need to be on the ready.
While we may enthusiastically welcome spring’s extended, light-filled days, especially after a long, cold oppressive winter, the switch to Daylight Savings Time comes with a bitter pill: losing an hour of sleep!
It might not sound like much, but losing an hour of sleep can really mess with your body’s natural circadian rhythms (internal body clock) as well as brain function, which may put you at higher risk for car accidents and even heart attack, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And for those of us who have sleep issues already (an estimated 70 million Americans), the time change can make insomnia even worse.
Did you know that sleep is involved in rejuvenating all the cells in your body, gives brain cells a chance to repair themselves, and activates neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to inactivity?
It’s true! Sleep is that important to your brain and body.
In fact, clinical neuroscientist, board-certified psychiatrist and brain imaging expert, Dr. Daniel G Amen, says that for most adults, getting enough sleep each night is essential for maintaining your mental edge, as well as for losing weight and even keeping depression at bay.
That’s because lack of sleep is associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain, which can compromise brain function, will power and mood.
Why lose precious brainpower and the healthy choices that come from an optimally functioning mind for even a day?
Problems often occur when our brains are not functioning at their best. Sleep is critical to your well-being and most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. It’s simple: When our brains work better, our lives work better.
So make a decision right now to protect your vital sleep and maintain optimal brain health when we spring forward to Daylight Savings Time with these four simple actions:
- Go to Bed Earlier, Wake Up Earlier
Starting tonight and until Daylight Savings Time actually goes into effect, simply go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. You’re body will get a head start resetting it’s internal clock and you will transition more easily to the change.
- Take Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally released from your brain’s pineal gland in response to light and dark. It’s an important regulator of the sleep cycle in the body. Normally, melatonin levels rise in the evening, when it gets dark, making you sleepy and remain high for most of the night and then drop in the early morning, when it gets light and you awake. When we spring forward and there is more light in the evening, your melatonin production may kick in later making it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. (Aging, traveling through time zones or certain medications can also have an effect on proper melatonin production.) Supplementing with melatonin prior to bedtime helps support your body’s natural mechanism that allows you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Avoid Stimulating and Sleep-Disruptive Activities
When the time springs forward, we generally have trouble falling asleep. It will help if you avoid anything that has a stimulating or sleep-disruptive effect. This means turning off electronics at least an hour or two before bedtime; avoiding caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate), alcohol (although a depressant, it interferes with sleep), vigorous exercise or large meals too close to bedtime.
- Take a Natural Relaxation Support Supplement
Taking one or any combination of the following natural supplements may support your body’s ability to relax.
- GABA or gamma-amino-butyric acid is an amino acid that regulates brain excitability. GABA functions to inhibit the excessive firing of neurons, which results in a feeling of calm. It essentially plays a role in turning the “off” switch on a busy mind. When you supplement with GABA, you support the body’s natural mechanism for quieting the mind. Who doesn’t need that?
- Magnesium, also known as the “relaxation” mineral, plays a role in hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production and, perhaps most important to sleep, the deactivation of adrenaline. A deficiency in magnesium can interfere in nerve cell firing, resulting in irritability and nervousness. Supplementing the body with magnesium helps with a sense of calmness, needed for restful sleep.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that has been used traditionally for centuries and is known for its calming effects. It appears that valerian may work through the GABA receptors, which, as you just learned, calm brain activity when activated.
Here’s to celebrating the joy of more daylight and protecting your brain-healthy sleep!
Vincent, A. Daylight Savings Time and Traffic Accidents. N Engl J Med. 1996; 334:924-925.
Janszky, I, et al. Shifts to and from Daylight Saving Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction. N Engl J Med. 2008; 359:1966-1968.
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