Tips for keeping your wellness & recovery progress static while the time changes.
Time changes—whether due to daylight saving time (DST), or shift work, or travel—can be difficult for people to adapt to. With the end of DST on November 1, 2015, what better “time” to talk about sleep and circadian rhythms?
I find the changes between standard time and daylight saving time difficult. Why? And how can I adapt better?
Most people find it easier to add an hour (“fall back”) to their sleep schedule rather than to subtract (“spring forward”); however, for many, the routine of a regular sleep schedule is so important that any deviation is potentially disturbing.
Humans (and many other living things) are attuned to circadian rhythms—physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle—governed by the patterns of light and darkness in our environment. Even though the time change in the fall is often easier than that in the spring, for people with bipolar, any change in sleep patterns is a potential problem that can result in destabilization.
Preparation is key. As the time-change weekend approaches, minimize plans and try to avoid activities that are outside your regular routine. Give yourself time to adjust. Go to bed at the same time you have for the past several months, adjust your clocks to the new time, and awaken looking at the new time. Upon arising in the new time, be active. This will help your system acclimate to the new reality.
How can I deal with changes in my day/night work schedule?
There are, of course, careers wherein long hours and late nights are part of the landscape, especially in the legal, medical, and design fields. I frequently manage students who get caught up in their studies and “pull an all-nighter,” which results in a destabilized routine and compromised activities for the next several days. Sleep routines are critical, and one must rest and sleep regularly for good health.
Shift work can be extremely challenging for people with bipolar disorder; for some, even one sleepless night can trigger a manic episode. Because of the risk, it is best to avoid pursuing jobs that have such requirements.
How can I adjust more easily to changing time zones when I travel?
Crossing time zones is most commonly associated with air travel. Get as much sleep as possible while on the plane. Scheduling flights during the day is wise but not always possible, as trips to Europe typically leave at night. Asia trips, due to the distance and the time in the air, are likewise challenging. In general, natural acclimation to time differences due to travel is advisable; however, temporary use of sleep aids—supervised by your doctor—may be beneficial in certain circumstances.
Once you have arrived at your destination, adapt to the local time and be active in the available sunlight. A one- to two-hour nap is acceptable during the first day, but every effort should be made to accommodate to the new time zone as soon as possible. Plan on approximately one day of adjustment per hour of time zone change. The adjustment may be accelerated by exposure to light in the morning, a morning walk in the sunlight, and going to bed at the local bedtime. Alcohol diminishes the quality of sleep and interferes with sustained sleep. A healthy exercise routine will benefit you by generating a sense of physical fatigue and a need for sleep.
Sleep, particularly for people with bipolar disorder, is as much a part of health as eating, drinking, and breathing. Unfortunately, healthy sleep habits do not just happen by themselves; just as in eating well for good health, with plenty of fruits and veggies at regular mealtimes, good sleep hygiene takes planning, careful attention, and consistent practice to be successful.
Printed as “The times they are a-changin,'” Fall 2015
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