Medical City Healthcare - October 20, 2016

Got rhythm? Even if you can't sing a note, dance a step or play an instrument, you do have rhythm — circadian rhythm. But the "fall back" time change, your bathroom night light and even a federal election could cause it to go completely out of whack. Circadian rhythms are the physical, mental and behavioral changes we experience daily, and they've been linked to sleep disorders such as insomnia, as well as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Millions of Americans suffer from sleep disorders.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 50-70 million American adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders and a third get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night and are sleepy every day. This deprivation causes a host of health, safety and economic concerns, including:

  • Increased stress on the heart, insulin resistance and diabetes risk
  • Reduced response to the flu vaccine
  • Increased risk of fatal car accidents, with 5,000-6,000 fatalities that could be attributed to drowsy drivers every year
  • Loss of business productivity estimated at $50 billion annually

Young adults aren't faring much better: 70% of high school students don't get enough sleep on school nights.

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Our sleep patterns are influenced by our internal circadian rhythms, but they can be affected by signals from the environment; in particular, light and darkness. When the signals change or are misinterpreted, circadian rhythms become disrupted, turning some of us into hot, sleepy messes.

Time can change me, but I can't change time. Oh wait ... yes I can.

Twice each year, we manipulate time when we "spring ahead" and "fall back." While no one seems to know why we still do it today, one thing's for sure: Turning the clock forward and backward — even just an hour — does a serious number on our circadian rhythms. The time changes are linked to:

  • A 25% increase in heart attacks the Monday after springing ahead
  • A significant increase in fatal traffic accidents the Sunday of the fall shift and the Monday following the spring shift
  • An average 8% rise in stroke risk over the two days following both shifts, with a 25% increase for cancer patients and a 20% increase for people 65 and up

It's easy to understand the effects of the spring time change. Take an hour of sleep away from an already sleep-deprived nation and you've got stressed out, grumpy, groggy drivers wondering if they changed every clock in the house (don't forget the car) before stumbling out the door in the dark.

But why the problems with the fall shift? Researchers say that the health consequences from changes in our circadian rhythms caused by the time changes are not just in response to physiological adjustments (losing an hour of sleep), but from our behavioral responses to those forced changes as well. The spike in traffic accidents in the fall is attributed to an increase in the number of late Saturday night/early Sunday morning drivers, suggesting people aren't using their extra hour to sleep but to party.

You think I don't know the election is making me lose sleep?

It's not what you think. Aside from the obvious stressors of being bombarded 24/7 by digital coverage of modern elections, it's really the blue light emitted by TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones and even lamps and night lights that are to blame. Blue light is found in natural sunlight and helps us stay alert during the day, but literally bathing our eyeballs in it at night confuses our brains and prevents or slows melatonin production, the hormone that signals bedtime.

However, orange light (also called amber) is the only color that contains no blue light. Experts recommend that you:

  • Unplug from all blue-screen electronics 90 minutes before bedtime – or –
    • Invest in an orange monitor cover for your computer
    • Download a screen adapter program such as f.lux
    • Turn on Night Shift mode in your Apple device with iOS 9.3
    • Wear glasses with amber lenses; often sold as safety goggles, they have the added benefit of blocking blue light from all sources
  • Use orange lightbulbs in your evening light sources and in night lights so those late-night trips to the bathroom won't keep you from getting back to sleep

Wake me up before you go. On second thought, don't.

Sleep is not a luxury; it's fuel for our bodies and as necessary as food and water. For peak health, follow these guidelines for nightly hours of sleep:

  • 12-14 years old / 9-11 hours
  • 15-17 years old / 8-10 hours
  • 18-64 years old / 7-9 hours
  • 65 years old and up / 7-8 hours

If you're expecting, check out our tips for sleeping better during pregnancy.

We hope you and your family have restful nights and sweet dreams, but if things don't go as planned, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or visit Medical City Virtual Care for non-emergency medical treatment from your computer or smartphone.

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Revised 3/6/2020

The post When You Can't Sleep, Blame the Elections and the Time Change appeared first on LifeSigns.