As daylight saving time approaches this weekend, many families around the country are looking forward to the extra sunshine in the evenings, while just as many are likely dreading the hour of sleep we are all going to lose on Sunday in order to get it. Sixty minutes might not sound like much, but in a country where many people aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep as it is, losing another hour could be detrimental to your health or safety. And what do we lose by gaining more light in the evenings?
“It shifts the circadian rhythm in the wrong direction for most people,” said Richard Castriotta, M.D., Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “The circadian rhythm basically works as an internal clock, and by shifting it to a period where it’s still light when young children are going to sleep, and dark when waking up, it makes it much harder to fall asleep and wake up. It can wreak havoc on the normal body rhythms of most people. It also provides other dangers such as children waiting for the morning school bus in the dark.”
A recent study from the University of Turku in Finland says that the shifting of the circadian rhythm, which upsets daily patterns, can even lead to a higher risk of stroke.
“The main thing we can do, for children especially, is to accommodate the change slowly by gradually going to bed earlier a few nights before the time change,” said Dr. Castriotta. “Make sure the bedroom is very dark, avoid bright light, and try to get up at the same time every day.”
Sleeping In: Too Much of a Good Thing?
It’s recommended that adults get about seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while kids in school need to be getting at least nine hours of sleep. Students in middle school need ten hours and those in elementary school need eleven hours. However, according to the National Sleep Foundation, too few people actually make those eight or so hours between the sheets a priority. Not getting enough sleep can lead to an increase in obesity, heart disease and more. But is it possible to get too much sleep?
“There’s a higher mortality rate associated with those who get too much sleep,” said Dr. Castriotta. “But there’s good reason to believe that the higher mortality associated with increased amounts of sleep is actually because those are people who were sick to begin with. There is a close link between the body’s immune system and sleep/wake coordination, so that when we are sick there are chemicals generated that make us sleep more.”
Some side effects of getting too much sleep include:
- Obesity: Simply put, the more you sleep, the less time there is to be active during the day. Less activity can lead to weight gain. However, not getting enough sleep can also lead to weight gain. When you are putting off sleep, your body begins to demand more energy in the form of foods that are high in calorie count.
- Depression: Sleeping too much can raise the risk of depression. According to a 2014 study, people who get sleep in the “normal” range had a 27 percent heritability of depressive symptoms while those who oversleep had a 49 percent heritability. Depression can actually result in both increased sleep and also insomnia, especially waking up too early in the morning.
- Brain function: A study in elderly women showed that those who got too much or too little sleep had worse brain functioning than those who slept seven hours per day.
There are some people who inherit a need for ten or more hours of sleep per day and others who may inherit genes that allow normal function with only six or less hours of sleep per day. However, in general those who are still sleepy after sleeping seven to eight hours per night may be at risk for serious sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, and need an evaluation by a sleep medicine specialist. It’s ideal to stick to the seven to nine hour range depending on the person. Some people feel rested after seven hours of sleep while others feel rested after eight or nine hours. You have to do what’s optimal for your body in order to allow it to recharge.
Making Up Lost Sleep
It’s common for Americans to claim they “sleep in” on the weekends in order to make up for the lack of sleep they get during the week. But do the extra hours actually help us catch up? Or are they doing more harm than good?
“If someone is sleeping later on the weekends, it is a clear indication that they aren’t getting enough sleep during the week,” said Dr. Castriotta. “In these cases, the amount of sleep they are getting on the weekends is what they need to be getting on a daily basis. We recommend going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning. A healthy sleep schedule such as this will eliminate the need to catch up on sleep during the weekend.”
For more information on the importance of sleep, visit the Memorial Hermann Sleep Disorders Center.