Ester column: The time change can mess with the biological clock

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:23 a.m.

By Ester Marsh
For the Salisbury Post
I don’t know about you, but this one hour change has affected me tremendously. It s amazing to have one hour mess up your biological clock. I do love that it stays lighter longer, and this too will pass and my body will adjust. It is easier, for most people, to adjust to an added hour instead of losing time. Anytime the time changes, or even when you cross different time zones (for you who are planning to travel extensively) you “mess” with your biological clock. It is an internal biological clock that regulates the timing for sleep in humans. The activity of this clock makes us sleepy at night and awake during the day. Our clock cycles an approximately 24-hour period. This biological clock is also involved in controlling reproductive cycles in some animals through its ability to track information about the changing lengths of daylight and darkness during a year. Did you know that we spend about one third of our lives asleep? Sleep is a required activity, not an option. Sleep actually appears to be required for survival. Rats deprived of sleep will die within two to three weeks, a time frame similar to death due to starvation. No wonder that one hour can affect us. A misconception about sleep is that the body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules. The biological clock that times and controls a person’s sleep/ wake cycle will attempt to function according to a normal day/night schedule even when that person is trying to change it. The biological clock can be reset, but only by the appropriately timed cues, but, even then, by one or two hours per day at best. When I fly to the Netherlands, I “lose” six hours. So, when I arrive in Netherlands at 8 a.m. Dutch time, it is 2 a.m. in the morning in N.C. And guess what I normally do at 2 a.m. in the morning? Sleep. But, when you arrive, it is daylight which makes it very hard to go to sleep, or even to feel sleepy. Later on that day, due to sleep deprivation, you will crash. At least I do. Sleep deprivation can produce a number of unwanted effects including excessive sleepiness, poor sleep, loss of concentration, poor motor control, slowed reflexes, nausea and irritability. In the fall when we set our time back, it is easier to adjust to that one hour change due to the fact you are gaining time. The same is the case with eastward travel it generally causes more severe jetlag than westward travel. (When you travel east you lose time, when you travel west, you gain time) For some people one hour change does not really make a difference, and for some people (like me) it makes a huge difference. This is what helps me: Get up at the usual time. If that is 5 a.m., get up at five. My biological clock says it is 4 a.m. By getting up and starting your day, you will get in the swing of things within a couple of days. Of course it helps when it is light outside (soon, I hope) to start your day early. It’s as important for you go to bed at the same time you usually do, with this one hour change you might not be “tired” but get to bed anyway. In a couple of days to a week you will be used to the time change. While traveling over time zones, especially in a plane, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol. On arrival (and return), make sure you eat a well- balanced diet and hydrate your body appropriately. Limit alcohol consumption (as it does not promote good sleep and consuming alcohol in the evening can also make sleep apnea problems worse). And last, but definitely not least, exercise. Again, it is proven that exercise has all these positive effects on your body and mind. The time has changed one week ago; I hope everyone is back to “normal”! Ester H Marsh ACSM Cpt

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