While most people experience fewer problems with the fall time change than when “springing forward” in March, any change to your normal sleep routine can be disruptive, says Oscar Schwartz, MD, BJC Medical Group sleep disorder specialist and medical director of the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital Sleep Disorder/EEG Center.
“The circadian cycle is 24 hours, and any disruption to the timing can affect when you feel sleepy or alert,” he says. “With the fall time change, you may wake up early and not be able to go back to sleep, and you may feel sleepy earlier in the evening.
“If your sleep cycle isn’t good to begin with, this change may be even more painful,” Dr. Schwartz adds. “Millions of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, and untreated sleep disorders, as well as chronic sleep deprivation, make circadian shifts more problematic.”
Sleep disorders affect about 40 million Americans, but only 5 percent are diagnosed and treated. Sleep disorders include narcolepsy, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea, as well as sleep behaviors like sleep walking, talking, eating or acting out one’s dreams (REM Behavior Disorder).
Inadequate sleep is associated with memory decline, difficulty in concentration, decreases in mental and physical performance, mood swings, irritability, depression, stress, high blood pressure, weight gain and automobile accidents.
It’s also associated with a host of other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
“People who sleep for less than seven hours a night seem to have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Dr. Schwartz says. “There’s also a 150 percent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease and a 200 percent increase in the risk of stroke in short sleepers, as well as an increased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer.”
Sleep disorders also affect the cardiovascular system, Dr. Schwartz says. For example, untreated sleep apnea can cause heart rhythm problems, poor cardiovascular function, congestive heart failure and even sudden death.
At this time of year, there’s also the issue of shorter daylight hours, he adds, which — like sleep deprivation — can affect emotions, behaviors and fatigue levels, and can lead to an increased incidence of depression and suicide.
“Most people are sleep-deprived,” Dr. Schwartz says. “People delay going to bed and try to fit everything possible into their day — and the last thing they acknowledge is that they have to sleep.
“Some people don’t believe they need the sleep, because they don’t have symptoms of sleep deprivation,” Dr. Schwartz adds. “Despite their perceptions, however, everyone needs adequate sleep.”
Dr. Schwartz says the key is planning. “It’s helpful for short sleepers to plan their sleep on a calendar, so they know when they have to go to bed and when they have to get up,” he says. “It’s best to mark their sleep on the calendar first and then plan everything else around that.
“Most sleep deprivation is self-imposed,” he adds. “The night daylight saving time ends is a good time to get an extra hour of sleep.”
If you have difficulty sleeping, seek help from a professional such as the accredited Sleep Disorders Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. For more information, call 314-996-8680.