Have trouble adjusting to the time change? The spring-forward time change can reveal underlying health conditions or an unbalanced lifestyle.
For many people, the Spring Forward time change came and went, without much effect on them. But for others, the time change can be a very difficult time, and even after the usual 1-7 day adjustment period is over, they find themselves still struggling with sleep and health concerns.
These sleep and health concerns are related to the overall functioning of the body clock. While it is just one hour’s change, the reason it can be so detrimental to some is that the Spring Forward time change affects one of the body clock’s greatest triggers – light. Light is the body clock’s cue for sleep and wakefulness. By losing natural light at a wake-up time in the morning, as well as losing one hour of sleep, some people’s body clocks are “pushed over the edge”. This is usually an indicator of an underlying health or sleep condition. Like the experience of jet lag, sleep deprivation brought on by a time change can cause problems beyond the sleep deprivation and its effects, including heart and brain problems.
Our body clocks are incredibly important to our overall health. Referred to as our internal or master clock, they function on a 24-hour basis. Often called the ‘circadian rhythm’, it is responsible for our sleep/wake cycle. The circadian rhythm controls not only sleep but also our metabolism, temperature, digestion, and immune system. Almost all living things have circadian rhythms and they are vital for the healthy functioning of the body. If the circadian rhythm is disturbed, problems can be seen in multiple areas of the body. The circadian rhythm can be disrupted by environmental factors such as a time change, or by lifestyle choices. Lack of sleep, poor sleep habits and night shifts, or late work habits, can mess with our circadian rhythm. There are numerous studies that show the link between messing with our circadian rhythms and the development of long-term health conditions such as obesity and breast cancer.
The most notable health effect of a disrupted circadian rhythm is disrupted sleep. Disrupted sleep causes numerous health concerns, which can be both short and long-term. There are a number of types of sleep disorders, but ones pertaining purely to the body clock and timing of sleep are known as Circadian sleep disorders. These include problems with:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up during the sleep cycle
- Waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep
Our body clocks work by being triggered by environmental factors. These triggers cause the brain to release hormones. Two of the most important environmental factor are as light and dark. Light triggers the brain to release certain hormones to effect changes in the body – sleepiness, and wakefulness. Two key hormones involved in this process are melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleep, and cortisol is responsible for waking. Thus, if a person has an underlying condition affecting the hormone regulation in their body, even a small disruption to the body clock can cause sleep deprivation and other health concerns.
The circadian rhythm is also affected by our routines and habits. Before looking at healthy habits for a healthy body clock, let’s look at habits that harm our body clocks and potentially put them out of sync. These include:
- Switching the natural rhythm of the day by working the night shift
- Keeping erratic hours (staying up late watching TV or working)
- Keeping inconsistent sleep patterns
- Poor sleep habits (poor sleep environment, consuming unhealthy food/drink prior to sleep)
- Screen time at night (artificial light triggers the body clock similarly to natural light)
- Medical conditions/sleep disorders
- Travel in different time zones
- Mental health conditions
- Older age
Many of these above factors can be controlled or limited by implementing a healthy routine based on healthy lifestyle principles. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy body clock is to maintain healthy habits and routines.
Some ways to achieve this are:
- Consistent routine
- Lifestyle – eating habits and work routine
- Sleep – keeping similar hours each night
- Using the power of natural light
- Waking with the sun if appropriate
- Time outdoors in the afternoons – ensuring your body gets enough sunlight
- Wind down earlier in the evenings
- Sleep routine
- Limit blue light
- Read before bed
- Healthy sleep environment
- Consistency in sleep patterns even over the weekend
- Exercise regularly
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evenings
- Addressing your underlying health disorders
If you have noted that the time change has caused problems for you, particularly relating to sleep, tiredness, or energy levels, it is important to determine whether this may be due to you experiencing too little sleep prior to the time change (and the time change has been the “tipping point” for your body), or if there may be an underlying condition such as a hormonal imbalance or sleep disorder that you may need to have addressed. If you know that you are overworked, overtired, and need more sleep, putting healthy habits in place will assist your body clock in regulating itself to a more healthy state. If you suspect or are unsure if you have an underlying condition, consulting with a member of our staff is a recommended option to determine what is affecting your sleep habits and overall health levels. We can also assist you with natural supplements aimed at promoting good sleep.
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