Cracking the Extra Hour of Sleep Code – Myth or Reality?

Extra hour of sleep myth or reality

Cracking the Extra Hour of Sleep Code – Myth or Reality?

We know that we need enough sleep to stay at our best.  Yet, let’s face it – most adults don’t get enough sleep.  Study after study has shown that Americans as a whole are sleep-deprived. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that, “adults aged 18–60 years sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being”. Most adults don’t hit that target.

“Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress”, not to mention just general overall moodiness and even being snarky towards others.  A low amount of sleep contributes to us not being our best selves.

When we see an opportunity to get an extra hour or two, most of us will jump at the chance!  One opportunity for this “extra hour” is the “Fall Back” clock change that comes about with Daylight Savings Time (DST) on the first Sunday of November each year.

With this one seemingly fabulous night ahead of us, we lose track that this could actually do more damage than good.  Here’s cracking that code – is that extra hour really good for you?  Is it myth or reality?

#1: Our Circadian Rhythm grinds to a halt

We all have an internal clock known as our Circadian Rhythm. It drives our patterns for sleeping, waking, hunger, thirst, and plenty of other important things in our bodies. Humans thrive on the homeostasis created by our circadian clock, so when the time comes to change our clocks, our bodies are thrown a substantial curve ball. Because our inner clock wants to stay the same no matter what, most of us struggle in making the shift forward and back in the spring and fall.

#2: We don’t really benefit from an extra hour of sleep

In reality, very few people actually benefit from that coveted “extra hour of sleep”. Only a small group of already sturdy sleepers will get that promised extra hour. For most people, we will wake up earlier, stay up later because we know we have the extra hour, or experience difficulty falling asleep in the first place. So even when we think we are getting a bonus, it backfires in terms of sleep to the point of even being more sleep deprived than usual.

#3: Changing our clocks impacts sleep for a week or more

A recent research study was published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine by Dr. Yvonne Harrison, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in England. In this article, she outlines that the seemingly insignificant one-hour change in our sleep pattern can actually impede our sleep for up to a week (and sometimes more). As we struggle to get back into a typical sleep pattern we struggle both at night when we try to sleep as well as during the day when we suffer the effects of sleep deprivation.

#4: Bad sleepers sleep even worse

For people who already struggle with sleep, changing the clocks forward and back serves as the icing on the proverbial cake. People who already get less than the recommended 7-8 hours a night, and people who are traditionally early risers often experience the most trouble adjusting to the time change. For this group of people it also takes much longer time to adjust and fall into a more typical sleep pattern.  The effect can last for weeks after the time change.

#5: Increased sleep fragmentation and sleep latency

In a second study conducted by Dr. Harrison, she set out to discover what specific consequences occur in the wake of the Daylight Saving Tim clock change. In her 2013 study, she found that many people experience what is known as increased sleep fragmentation and sleep latency in the days and weeks after the time shift.  The extra hour of sleep may have just backfired.

Sleep Fragmentation:  This sleep disturbance is when a person lies awake in bed, unable to fall back to sleep. Even when someone is over-tired they still might struggle with the ability to stay asleep or go back to sleep after waking. This is a common complaint in the days following the Daylight Saving Time switch.

Sleep Latency:  Sleep latency or sleep onset latency refers to the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. For most it is just a few minutes before they drift off to sleep, but for others it can take much longer. In the days after the time change, many people experience an increase in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

In her publication, Dr. Harrison discusses how these sleep disturbances can lead to an increase in traffic accident rates and changes in health and regulatory behaviors. When we experience difficulty falling and staying asleep, there are a number of outcomes – most of which are not good.

Conclusion:  Myth or Reality?

While we all know that sleep is an important part of our health and wellness, getting enough can be hard. When we pair our daily struggle to sleep with unwanted twice annual time changes of the current Daylight Saving Time process, study after study shows that it compounds the problem. While that extra hour that night is reality, it seems to be a myth that collectively anyone really gets more sleep from this the change in time.  The best answer for better sleep for everyone is to have one consistent time all year round.

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