Ochsner: How to 'Avoid' Losing One Hour of Sleep for Daylight Savings Time

With daylight savings time on the horizon, people throughout the United States (except in Arizona and Hawaii) will “lose” a precious hour of sleep on Sunday, March 11. For people who regularly sleep at least 7-9 hours per night, it should be only a minor inconvenience.  However, for the over 50 percent of Americans who sleep less than seven hours, that one-hour loss will take a day or two to recover from.

Our overall health, including the immune system’s ability to withstand disease, is dependent on adequate sleep.  Lack of sleep has also been a proven factor in increased weight gain.  According to Ochsner primary care physician Rebecca Meiners, MD, there are several things that can be done to help your body “spring forward”.

•   Plan ahead. Starting the week leading up to March 11, try to go to bed a littler earlier each night or try waking up a littler earlier each day. This will minimize the amount of time “lost” and make the change less drastic.

•   Sleeping-in the day before, or taking a nap the day of the change, won’t help your body adjust. It’s a good idea to go to bed and wake up on the same schedule every day, including weekends. Having a schedule, and sticking to it, is the best way to feel rested.

•   Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Alcohol causes poor sleep quality and can make symptoms of sleep apnea worsen. Stimulants, like caffeine and nicotine, can make going to sleep difficult, as they stop your body from making sleep inducing chemicals. 

•   Have a sleep-friendly environment. The correct bedroom environment should be dark, cool, and quiet. Electronic devices such as televisions and tablets stimulate the brain and make it difficult to fall asleep.

•   Don’t eat big meals late. The body needs to work to digest a big meal. Body functions slow down when you sleep, but that won’t happen if the brain and body are more focused on the digestive process.  

Ochsner registered dietitian Molly Kimball recently explained on WGNO that there are foods that have had a proven effect on improving the quality of rest.

•   There are a lot of foods on the market that are touted to help you sleep better, but passionflower has a long history of use as both a sedative as well as an anti-anxiety remedy. Drinking a cup of passionflower tea an hour before going to bed can improve sleep quality. It’s rare to find passionflower as the stand-alone tea ingredient – most likely, it will be incorporated as an ingredient in a tea blend.  

•   When it comes to falling asleep, many look to turkey or milk because of the tryptophan they contain. Tryptophan is an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, which is used to make melatonin - a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Tryptophan-rich foods include proteins like turkey, chicken, eggs, and Greek yogurt.  We also need carbohydrates to enhance serotonin levels, so to reap maximum benefits of tryptophan, the best nighttime choice contains a blend of carbs and protein. Whole grain crackers with cheese, protein-rich cereal, Nature Valley Protein Bars, toast with peanut butter or cheese, or popcorn with a few nuts are all different options.

•   Cottage cheese with fruit is another carbohydrate/protein combo that can boost serotonin. Additionally, cottage cheese contains a lot of casein - a slow-digesting protein that will keep you feeling fuller for longer. 

•   Not necessarily the most obvious sleep aid, eating two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime has been shown to improve the time it takes to fall asleep, total sleep time, and overall sleep quality. Kiwi contains many compounds, including serotonin, which can benefit sleep patterns. 

•  As a top source of magnesium, potassium, and calcium, spinach will help your body relax. Magnesium has been shown to assist with falling and staying asleep, as well as with restless leg syndrome and nighttime muscle cramps (both of which can interfere with sleep). It’s also rich in potassium which, along with magnesium, promotes muscle relaxation. Calcium helps the body produce melatonin.