Falling back on sleep - get ahead of the time change

By Dr. Jay Puangco

With the end of daylight saving time fast approaching, some people begin to dread turning the clocks back an hour on Saturday. Research shows most of us feel the effect of time changes for days after we reset our clocks.

Sleep is a function of the brain, and the brain needs a little prep time to get used to this new schedule.

Good news for the early risers is that the sun will come up about an hour earlier, and there will be more light in the mornings. This also means that the sun will set much earlier.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffers from insomnia, or any other sleep disorder, getting to bed at a decent hour may be a nightly struggle.

Most people need 8 hours of sleep – some of us need a little more or a little less. The important thing is to aim for the right amount of sleep for you so that you wake up feeling rested.

Practicing good sleep hygiene is just as important as personal hygiene. Here are some practices, habits and environmental factors that are important for getting a restful amount of sleep.

Establish a routine and stick to it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your body regulate its sleep pattern and get the most out of the hours you sleep.

Try to limit alcohol intake. It is commonly thought that alcohol can help with sleep, but this is a myth. Alcohol can interrupt your sleep, preventing you from reaching those needed deep stages of sleep.

Another way to get that much needed shut-eye is to get some exercise. Thirty minutes or more of moderate exercise, three times a week, can help you sleep better. Just try to avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime.

If you're having trouble sleeping, don't be tempted to reach for the sleeping pills. Pills or medications that interfere with our sleep cycles deny our brains the natural stages of sleep.

There are two basic states of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – where intense dreaming occurs – and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of three stages. The first stage of NREM sleep is often called "light sleep," while the last two stages are "deep sleep," during which the body repairs and regenerates tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

Our brains typically cycle between non-REM and REM sleep several times a night. People who rely on sleeping pills, alcohol or drugs as a crutch to fall asleep rarely feel well-rested – and that is because they're not. Drugs disrupt these sleep cycles.

At the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center, we use cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and relaxation techniques to re-train people to do what used to come so naturally. But even without professional help, there are some very simple things you can do at home to get you back to into the rhythm of natural sleep:

  • Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. Light from TVs and computers can suppress melatonin and affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Reserve your bed for romance and sleep only. Don't check your email, watch TV or even read in bed.
  • Keep your room cool at night; a lower temperature helps induce sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch time.

We all find it difficult to adjust our sleep as we fall back and spring forward throughout the year. But the only way to get the most out of our shut-eye is to practice healthy sleep habits.

Jay Puangco, M.D., is service chief of the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center in Newport Beach.