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Sleep and time change

by La Boite à Grains 05 Jun 2024
Sommeil et changement d'heure - La Boite à Grains

Many people see the change to summer time as the signal for the arrival of spring. The days grow longer, giving us a foretaste of the season to come. But is this practice beneficial or harmful to our health?

Some observations suggest that adapting to these changes - whether in spring or autumn - is not as easy as all that, and that the repercussions are significant.

Some studies show an increase in accidents, heart attacks, psychiatric disorders and even obesity!


How does the time change affect our sleep?

Humans are diurnal beings, which means we wake up during the day and sleep at night. Sleep is induced when the eyes perceive a decrease in light intensity (or an increase in darkness), which triggers the release of melatonin. Although melatonin is the main instigator of sleep, it is not the only chemical involved in sleep regulation.

Cortisol also has a role to play, and its levels are associated with the wake/sleep cycle. In fact, increased cortisol levels in the morning are what help us wake up. So it's not surprising that in times of stress (when cortisol is high) most people find it difficult to fall asleep or get a restful sleep.

Melatonin and cortisol levels vary throughout the day, with cortisol peaking in the morning and melatonin at night. This is known as the circadian rhythmThis is the so-called circadian rhythm, naturally attuned to sunrise and sunset. Given the amount of artificial light in big cities and even at home (think of the LED lights on your TV, alarm clock, etc.), sleep patterns can be seriously affected. The phenomenon is further aggravated by the stress associated with the twice-yearly time change.

What are the symptoms?

It's quite obvious. When you can't get to sleep, sleep poorly or don't sleep long enough, fatigue sets in. This state can considerably reduce alertness and reaction time, and can even affect body temperature and mood. Unfortunately, sleep isn't something you can store up, i.e. you can't accumulate it for later, nor can you make up for lost sleep.

Which is worse, the spring or autumn time change?

It really depends on your lifestyle. Are you a late sleeper or an early riser? At least one study, published in the journal BMC Physiology, Life's Extremes: Night Owl vs. Morning Larkstates that night owls are more affected in spring and morning people more affected in autumn. In the end, the real problem is that time changes, whether in spring or autumn, affect us all, and most people have difficulty adjusting to them, sometimes taking several weeks.

What can you do to sleep better?

Most people with sleep problems (either falling asleep or staying asleep) ask their family doctor for help. The classic treatment is to take sedatives or hypnotics (usually benzodiazepines) for a short period (no more than two weeks). However, they are not without consequences, and can cause rebound insomnia.

The first "natural" approach to sleep problems includes relaxation techniques, good sleep hygiene - total darkness - and no television, telephone or other distractions before bedtime, and especially no stimulants (e.g. coffee or tea) after 12 noon.

Aerobic exercise is a very effective way of getting a peaceful night's sleep, and even though you're expending energy, you're helping your body increase its sense of well-being while reducing the feeling of fatigue.

For those who really need help sleeping, but prefer to a "natural" solutionthere are certain substances that can be effective in the right dosage. When in doubt, always consult a licensed naturopathic doctor or qualified health care provider.

Among the remedies herbal remedies valerianhops (not recommended if you suffer from depression) passionflower and jujube can be very useful. Note, however, that while most of these plants are effective for falling asleep, they are less effective for staying asleep, which is why a good sleep and exercise routine is also important.


by Sonia Chartier
co-authored by Rick Olazabal, B.Sc., BN



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