Sunday, November 3 is daylight savings time, where people set their clocks back (remember the phrase: Spring forward, Fall back) one hour beginning at 2:00 am. While most of us are used to this, it’s not uncommon for many to frown upon the change, complaining of going to work and waking up in the dark.
Their complaints aren’t unwarranted. Disruption in light affects our internal clocks which in turn alters our sleep/wake cycles, or circadian rhythm. At the root of this cycle is melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate these cycles. With the onset of the time change in the fall, melatonin production starts earlier in the day, essentially throwing our bodies out of whack.
The disruption our bodies endure due to time changes can lead to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD (which affects 5 percent of the U.S. population), depression and fatigue. “Even if you don’t have full-blown SAD, you can experience the ‘winter blues,’ or feelings of exhaustion, sluggishness and sadness,” says Michael Terman, Ph.D., and author of Reset Your Inner Clock.
Here are 4 tips to keep your body on track naturally during daylight savings time
Eat foods with melatonin
Instead of supplements, choose foods that naturally have high levels of melatonin. Tart (also on labels as “sour”) cherry juice concentrate tops the list, followed by sour cherries, walnuts and mustard seed. Incorporating them in your diet during this time can help restore your circadian rhythm.
Dr. Russel Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center says, “We were surprised at how much melatonin was in cherries, specifically the Montmorency variety.”
Since finding fresh ones may be difficult, dried, frozen and canned cherries found at whole food and health stores are also effective.
Some studies liken ongoing lack of sleep and sleep disturbances to triggering the brain to into thinking the body is in a state of perpetual drunkenness. During the start of the time change, it’s suggested that going to bed earlier and even waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal can ease the body back into rhythm.
In an effort to obtain more light, many people, especially those with SAD, turn to lightboxes. However, while the Mayo Clinic says they are typically safe, the clinic warns against side effects like increased headaches, nausea and skin reactions for those with sun sensitivities. Instead, getting as much natural light as possible is encouraged. Opening blinds that are typically kept shut, or opening them sooner than usual is advised as is going outside and taking a short walk.
Exercise can help people adjust to the time change. However, it’s not necessary to spend hours breaking a sweat. Just a short, brisk walk or run will suffice. Biologist David Glass of Kent State University says such activity stimulates the release of serotonin in our brains that help us adjust with a time change.
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