Advice from a Sleep Physician to Successfully Deal with Fall's Time Change and Reduced Daylight Hours

Calgary, Alberta--(Newsfile Corp. - October 27, 2021) - The clocks go back an hour at 02:00 AM Sunday morning November 7, providing an extra hour of much needed sleep. This is a gift for many as people of all ages suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders.

"Up to 30 per cent of people in society are chronically sleep deprived," says Dr. Charles Samuels, the Medical Director of Calgary's Centre for Sleep & Human Performance. "Everyone needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function properly, and many of us try to get by on far less."

"I see a lot of people who are causing significant harm to their health because of disrupted sleep from using devices in the bedroom, working too many hours and not making sleep a priority," adds Dr. Samuels, an internationally recognized expert on the effect of sleep deprivation and disruption on human health and performance.

There are other common factors affecting sleep at this time of year. Teenagers and young adults stressed after returning to school and facing exams, while also worrying about their futures, often suffer insomnia. They also tend to stay up late playing video games and texting, which impacts sleep significantly.

Another issue is Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). According to Dr. Samuels, as many as 5-10 per cent of North Americans suffer from the disorder, seen more frequently in northern regions. Also, known as the 'Winter Blues', SAD means a person who is normally very alert can become overly tired as their body struggles to cope with a lack of sunlight.

"The shorter days and extended periods of darkness mess up the body's natural circadian rhythms," he says. "We need sunlight or other bright light to help adjust those rhythms - or body clocks - to stay awake and alert."

Disturbances in melatonin and serotonin due to longer hours of darkness are believed to play a role in sleep and winter depression. Light therapy has been effective in treating people with SAD. The patient is exposed to bright light (as much as 20 times brighter than household lighting) for at least 30 minutes a day, usually in the morning. This light affects the brain's biological clock, which has an important role in maintaining the sleep/awake cycle. Light inhibits the secretion of melatonin, which scientists think may have an important role in regulating the body's circadian rhythm. Ongoing research is being done on SAD and how best to treat it.

Problems with sleep are among the most common complaints patients bring to their physicians. Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and other serious medical conditions; as well as negatively affecting our productivity and safety at work, home and everywhere in between, adds Dr. Samuels.

CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia) is the most effective first-line treatment for chronic insomnia. It is also an excellent alternative for patients who wish to treat their trouble sleeping at night without the use of sleep medication, and for those who wish to taper off or reduce their sleep medication. Most patients respond to treatment in 2-6 sessions.

Sleep Tips:

Dr. Samuels recommends:

  1. Maintaining your regular bedtime on Saturday night when the clocks move back so that you are more likely to get that extra hour of sleep to help reduce sleep debt.
  2. Keep your room dark when you are sleeping. Avoid bright light or exposing yourself to bright light through the use of technology before bed.
  3. Increase light when you wake up. Light has an alerting effect that may help you get going in the morning. It will also help adjust your biological clock to the 'new' sleep schedule.

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