Spring ahead ... without falling behind
The days are getting longer and winter is finally nearing its end. This Sunday, the clocks skip forward an hour.
It’s hard to imagine anything negative about more sunlight. But adjusting to daylight saving time can adversely affect the quality of your sleep, says Melodee Mograss, research associate at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre.
She explains that our bodies have what’s called a circadian rhythm. It’s a biological clock with a roughly 24-hour cycle.
“We know body temperature, sleep patterns, hormone release and other bodily functions fluctuate in humans throughout each day,” says Mograss.
“Dips and rises in alertness, waking up five minutes prior to the alarm — these are all examples of your circadian rhythm at work.”
While this phenomenon is endogenous, external factors can also influence it.
“Light exposure at the wrong time can disrupt sleep and wakefulness.”
Feeling the winter blues?
Because light affects the circadian rhythm, feeling more lethargic during the winter season is common. So, don’t fret if you’ve found these past few months particularly draining.
Andreas Bergdahl, associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science, says winter fatigue is physiological.
“Basically, a lack of sunlight causes our brain to produce more melatonin, a hormone which makes us sleepy,” he explains.
“We release this hormone in response to light exposure. Since the sun sets earlier in the winter, our bodies consequently want to go to bed earlier and we may feel we require more hours of sleep.”
However, Bergdahl says there’s a quick trick to overcoming winter fatigue — simply make the most of the daylight available.
“We don’t technically need any more sleep during this season, but certain physiological changes will affect our fatigue levels. A simple way to cope is to open the curtains and let the sunlight in as soon as you get up in the morning.”
‘Bright light will improve your mood’
While this month’s time skip will mean longer daylight hours at the end of the day, it may still throw you off-kilter.
“Most of us find the lost hour difficult at first,” Mograss says. “The sleep cycle does not immediately adjust, and it can take about a week for your circadian rhythm to catch up.”
But the researcher encourages us to take advantage of the change.
“Go outside for a walk during lunchtime or during a break. Bright light exposure will help you feel more alert and improve your mood.”
She also says it’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. And, most importantly, keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule.
Find out more about Concordia's PERFORM Centre and Department of Exercise Science.