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We join in celebrating the arrival of spring, but for many the adjustment to Daylight Savings Time that comes with it poses special health concerns. As clocks spring forward we not only lose an hour of sleep, we need several days to reset our internal clocks.
Older adults and those with chronic illnesses can find the transition particularly difficult. Sleep deprivation is already a common complaint for seniors and those who are ill. According to Nancy Trimble, an Advance Practice Nurse with Ohio’s Hospice, “The elderly, who already have fragmented sleep patterns due to aging, may suffer more sleep disturbances, worsening of sundowning in dementia, and are at a higher risk of heart attack in the first 3 days following the Daylight Savings Time change due to the stress of sleep disturbance. People can be groggy, leading to more auto and on the job accidents. For seniors it may also affect their accuracy in taking medications correctly. Falls due to sleepiness may also ensue.”
Trimble offers some recommendations for easing into the time switch. “Avoidance of sleeping pills, alcohol, and caffeine will help, as well as gradually adjusting bedtimes and awakening, and being aware of the potential changes that might occur. It may be necessary to speak to your health care provider on how to adjust scheduled medications such as insulin with the time change. Exposure to more light also is helpful in resetting the circadian (light, hormone, wake/sleep cycle) rhythms. Seniors tend to take more time to adjust to the time changes and may need a little help during those times.”
The following are some additional suggestions to help those most affected by the change to Daylight Savings Time:
- Maintain a routine. As much as possible, maintain regular sleep patterns, adjusting the time of going to bed and waking up by no more than 15-20 minutes. This helps keep your personal sleep rhythm steady.
- Avoid the enemies of good sleep. Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol in the evening; avoid over-the-counter sleep aids; and avoid napping.
- Exercise. Walking, biking, swimming can all help you fall asleep more easily.
- Take a bath. A warm bath before bed can help the body relax and produce the natural sleep-hormone melatonin.
- Set the stage for sleep. Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable and quiet. Turn off that TV!