Don't let daylight saving time knock you off-kilter

Monday mornings are scary enough already, but next Monday is poised to unleash a workforce of sluggish zombies.

That’s because sleep-deprived Americans will lose an hour of slumber after setting their clocks forward early Sunday in the annual “spring forward” ritual of daylight saving time (DST).

Sleep experts say workers would be wise to use the occasion to improve sleep habits, including by watching their diet, exercising and keeping cell phones out of the bedroom. And those with existing sleep problems or other risk factors should devise a plan to slowly adjust to the time change.

DST is one rite of spring that can be deadly: A 2014 study by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found a 24 percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday after springing forward. The instances of heart attacks dropped to a more typical rate on Tuesday, once people returned to their routines.

The “spring forward” is arguably the worst day for work-sleep balance for Americans, but the other 364 aren’t much better. Nearly half of all workers (47 percent) say thinking about work keeps them up at night, and 60 percent say a lack of sleep has harmed their work, according to a new survey from CareerBuilder.

What do those negative workplace impacts look like? Think lower productivity, more mistakes, job resentment and a heightened tendency of workers to snap at colleagues. Adding insult to injury: 65 percent of respondents said they’ve had dreams (or nightmares) about work. Just 17 percent of those surveyed said they got the doctor-recommended eight hours of sleep per night.

Some workers are more vulnerable than others to the time change, including older workers, those with existing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, and those with rotating shifts, said Dr. Aparajitha Verma, a sleep neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital.

The spring change is particularly vexing because for most folks it’s easier to sleep in another hour in the morning than it is to go to sleep an hour earlier at night.

“Someone who’s otherwise young and healthy can pretty much recover from a time change rather quickly,” Verma added.

Sleep quality has far-reaching implications for health, with a lack thereof being a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and weight gain, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a professor at Keck School of Medicine at USC.

Combine the longstanding risks with a years-long trend toward fewer sleep hours for most Americans, and you’ve got a scary formula.  

“When we talk about the clinical manifestations of having no sleep, you tell me the organ, and I’ll tell you what the problems are going to be,” Dasgupta said.

Some companies, particularly in the tech and medical fields, have taken aim at the problem by offering napping facilities at the workplace, Dasgupta noted.

A mindset change could help, too.

People don’t brag about skipping the gym or overeating, but they do tend to brag about being too busy for sleep, said Dr. Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist in Arizona.

Instead, they should treat adequate sleep as “a badge of honor.”

“Sleep is an interesting thing because it really is the key to everything else,” Serin said. “Forget about sleep deprivation. Even a few nights of lack of sleep can really take a toll on your immune system, your productivity, attention, your mood and anxiety level.”

Finding a balance between work and sleep sometimes requires proactive steps: “When someone lays their head down at night, if their mind doesn’t shut off, that’s a problem,” she said. “You need to create ways to self-regulate so it does.”

Among the practical tips she recommends: Eliminate artificial light a few hours before sleep, avoid certain dream-provoking entertainment (think crime shows) before bed and exercise during the day but not right before sleep.  

“Even an extra 20 minutes, half an hour a night, is huge in our modern day,” Serin said. “That would add up to a lifetime of better health, less anxiety, more happiness and better productivity.”

The best way to prepare for DST is gradually -- adjusting dinner time and bedtime before the change, said Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and a sleep health consultant for Mattress Firm. Otherwise, avoid TVs and devices late at night, and allow for plenty of natural light to filter through your home’s windows in the morning. 

Another tip: Capitalize on longer evenings -- one of the key advantages of DST, said Dr. Charlene McEvoy, a sleep medicine specialist at the Regions Hospital Sleep Health Center in Maplewood, Minnesota. “Enjoy the natural lighting outside or indoors with your curtains open,” McEvoy said. “Sunlight helps naturally reset your body clock.”

Ultimately, for most people, getting better sleep comes down to “stimulus control,” Dasgupta said: “If you aren’t ready to fall asleep, don’t go to bed.”

Still anticipate trouble falling asleep early on Sunday night? Certain scents, such as vanilla and lavender, can be great sleep aides, said Dr. Param Dedhia, director of sleep medicine at the Canyon Ranch wellness resort in Tucson, Arizona.

Dedhia also suggests sleepers avoid heavy foods such as pasta close to bedtime and skip the alcoholic nightcap. Instead, pour yourself a glass of tart cherry juice.