Sometimes it feels like the worst thing about the time change is that everyone has to complain about the time change.
The second worst thing, almost certainly, is that the older we get, the harder it is to deal with the time change. At university, let’s say, it was easy enough to survive an entire night spent writing a last-minute assignment. A few decades later and even an hour of daylight saving time can throw off our waking rhythm for days.
“Disruptive sleeping habits, which can form patterns, emerge at a younger age,” says Dr. Mandeep Singh, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Toronto. “When we’re young we have our body reserves, and we can get by with some level of sleep disruption and we can compensate for it, but as we get older we begin to appreciate the true value of optimal sleep health, just as we begin.” with symptoms of fatigue, daytime sleepiness and poor health outcomes.
For most people, these issues have worsened since the pandemic began. Singh’s research specifically looks at the impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers, many of whom face even more shift work, impacting health. Outside of healthcare, however, the way many people live and work has changed over the last year and a half and disrupted their sleep patterns as well. According to Singh, more and more people are working irregular late nights, spending more time on gadgets, and generally spending less time outside in natural light, which is key to regulating melatonin.
The last thing most of us need right now is another interruption, like turning the clocks back. Especially since studies have linked putting the clocks back (or going forward) with an increased risk of car accidents, work-related injuries, insomnia and mental health problems.
So is there anything we can do to lessen the effects of change on our bodies? There are many strategies out there, but one that’s becoming more commonly prescribed is bedtime meditation, both as part of a comprehensive mindfulness program and as a standalone practice.
“There is now a lot of evidence that meditation and deep breathing exercises, known as pranayama in yoga, can be beneficial and help with relaxation and unwinding to improve sleep quality,” Singh explained. “And in general, mindfulness has been shown to reduce the level of stress and stress people feel at any time of the day.”
Aside from mindfulness apps, there are many online resources for relaxation music, deep breathing, and bedtime meditation. One of the most popular YouTube sleep meditation channels is by Jason Stephenson, founder of Relax Me Online Australia, so when I couldn’t get back to sleep in the middle of the night I decided to give it a try. I quickly relaxed and started to doze off but had to turn it off early because I was worried that the next video in the YouTube lineup would be Norwegian death metal or something and it would snap me out of the zen state and wake me up . Although I didn’t finish the video, which was essentially a fairly standard body scan, it worked.
Why does this type of meditation work so well? A lot of this has to do with breathing, which is really the anchor for most relaxation techniques because it helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system, says Greg Wells, PhD and author of “Rest, Refocus, Recharge: A Guide for Optimizing Your Life.” .”
“Your sympathetic nervous system, which connects your brain to your body, is like a light switch, and when you turn it on, you activate the system and get ready to perform,” said Wells, a sleep expert and consultant. “The other nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system, which dims the lights and helps you rest, recover, and regenerate.”
In addition, both experts advise a number of strategies to help you adapt to this bi-annual disruption to our circadian rhythm. Wells has a nightly log, which you can find on his website (drgregwells.com), that actually starts in the afternoon when he stops drinking coffee and later includes turning off screens, spending time with family, and keeping a gratitude journal . And Singh suggests wading in time by setting your alarm 15 minutes later each day for the four days before clocks go back on Sunday. (And vice versa for the spring-forward switch.)
“Simple things go a long way when it comes to sleep, so try blackout drapes, earplugs and natural light with dimmers, blue blockers; Night shift mode on devices can help break down strategies just before bed,” Singh advised. “These are all small things, but together they make a big impact.”
Singh and Wells also agree that better sleep is more important now than ever, for healthcare workers and everyone else.
“I think in our world today, in this 20-month-long pandemic and deluge with various stressful headlines, we need to take some time to hit the brakes and consciously rest and rejuvenate at least daily,” Wells said. “It can be reading, taking a hot bath, reading fiction, or doing meditation and mindfulness training.”
He added, “I take some time for myself and use it for just a few minutes each day, and it makes a huge difference when you do.”