THURSDAY, March 8, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Pushing the clock ahead one hour this Sunday may create problems by tinkering with your own "body clock," experts warn.

But there are several ways to make the transition to Daylight Savings Time (DST) a little less tiring, including preparing for the change gradually before DST takes effect and getting more exposure to morning sunlight.

This is the first year Daylight Savings Time will start on the second Sunday in March in many parts of the United States, instead of the first Sunday in April.

"The change in time is only an hour, but it's the change in light that makes a difference in how people feel," explained Ralph Downey III, the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Calif., and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"An hour shift doesn't seem like a whole lot, but it's as if you're behind the curve an hour a day until you get adjusted," Downey said. "It can influence your mood, your ability to get things done, your ability to concentrate," he said. In addition, people are more prone to driving accidents.

Downey suggested easing yourself into the change by spreading it over several days before DST actually starts. By going to sleep 15 minutes earlier and waking up 15 minutes earlier each day for the four days before DST starts, you will have adjusted your internal clock gradually and won't have any of the negative effects from the time change, he advised.

Another expert suggested that getting more exposure to morning sunlight is the best way to reset your internal clock.

Most people can easily adapt to a one hour change, said Dr. Jose Loredo, the director of the Sleep Medicine Center at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center. "However, there are people who are sensitive to the time change, especially people who have insomnia and children who have an established routine. This can really throw them off and cause significant problems with their sleep," he said.

The key to adjusting to DST is exposure to sunlight, Loredo said. "We can actually change our internal clock backward or forward depending on the exposure to light," he said. "The change isn't immediate, it takes some time," he added.

Loredo agreed that gradually adjusting your sleep schedule will help adjust your internal clock.

"But the best way to advance your clock is being exposed to sunlight in the morning. Bright sunlight, not inside but outdoors without sunglasses, for an hour to two hours a day will advance your internal clock by an hour," Loredo said.

In addition, a small dose of melatonin can help, Loredo said. "To advance your internal clock faster or further, you can take melatonin (the lowest dose possible, whatever you get in the store -- cut it in half) at five or six o'clock p.m. It's not a sleeping pill, it helps advance the clock."

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has these tips to help people cope with the upcoming time change:

  • Begin to re-jig your sleeping routine a few days before the time change by hitting the sack an hour earlier.
  • Re-adjust your mealtime schedule by eating dinner an hour earlier.
  • Be careful when operating machinery or driving on the day of the time change.
  • Avoid naps, especially close to bedtime.
  • Avoid turning to caffeine to wake you up in the morning and alcohol at night to help you sleep.
  • Maintain a lighter schedule on the Monday after the time change. Try and minimize driving and avoid strenuous activities.
  • Eat properly, drink lots of water and remain physically active.

Since Daylight Savings Time is starting three weeks earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned that this earlier change could have unpredictable effects on medical devices and equipment, hospital computer networks, and information technology systems.

According to the FDA, medical equipment that uses, creates or records time information about a patient's diagnosis or treatment and hasn't been updated by the manufacturer may not work properly when DST starts Sunday.

This could cause medications to be incorrectly prescribed, or given at the wrong time, or missed, or given more than once, or given for longer or shorter durations than intended, or incorrectly recorded, the FDA warned.

"The extent and seriousness of this problem is unclear," the FDA said in a statement. "We do not know if any medical equipment will be affected, how it will be affected, or how it may affect patients. Although we don't know what specific equipment may fail to work correctly, we are concerned about equipment that consumers or patients use in their homes."

The FDA suggested that health-care workers and patients check any medical equipment that is time-sensitive. Checking should be done after 2 a.m. Sunday, after the time change.

More information

For more information on sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

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