Now that daylight savings time has come, we have been springing forward our clocks to enjoy longer days of sunshine, at the expense of one hour of sleep. For some, this transition isn’t easy. Your body naturally functions on its own biological internal 24-hour cycle called the ‘circadian rhythm’. It regulates when you should get up and when you should get sleepy, sometimes being referred to as the sleep-wake cycle. While it is a self-sustained system (endogenous) relying on factors such as brain waves, body temperature and hormone production, it can be adjusted by external factors (entrained), the most important being daylight.
Light and melatonin production go hand in hand. Melatonin is, or at least should be, quite low throughout the day. It is a hormone made by a small gland in the center of the brain called the pineal gland via a process called the dim light melatonin onset. In a simple explanation, light (primarily blue light) suppresses melatonin production throughout the day. Darkness, or more accurately the absence of blue light to the retina of the eye, favors the pineal gland’s production of melatonin. The rise of melatonin in the evening when daylight fades makes the brain drowsy and ready for sleep. It is important to note that melatonin production is not the only factor to consider in influencing the daily circadian rhythm. The central nervous system is paramount in regulating our internal clock along with the regulation of many other hormones of our endocrine system. In any case, changing the time on the clock undoubtedly alters daylight patterns and can wreak havoc on the sleep-wake cycle your body tries so hard to maintain. Your body is forced to reset its 24-hour cycle which will temporarily be out of sync. It will need to work a little harder to adapt to this change.
During these transitional times, it is very important to have a healthy sleep hygiene routine, including dim lighting and calming activities, to help you relax before bedtime, enhance your sleep quality and improve melatonin production. Staying away from electronic devices such as the television, cell phone, tablet or computer reduces brain stimulation and light sources before bed. For some, additional melatonin supplementation can provide benefit.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.