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How to reset your body when the clocks fall back

Alarm clock

Lise Gagne

1. Get lots of light when you wake up

James MacFarlane, director of education at the Toronto Sleep Institute, says the best way to adjust your internal clock after a time change - such as the hour-back required by the Nov. 1 end of daylight savings - is to expose yourself to light first thing in the morning. It sends a signal to your brain that the night is over.

Flipping the switch on a lamp will do the job, but getting a hit of sunshine is best, he says, even though the season's waning daylight hours can make that tricky.

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"If you go to work by subway at 6 in the morning and land at your desk, your chance of getting light will be slim," he says. "Get off a stop early, get [outside]and get exposed."

Share your tips Wait! What time is it? Have you ever forgotten to change the clocks with disastrous - or comical - consequences? Share your stories about losing track of time.





2. Schedule regular meal times

The old adage of breakfast being the most important meal of the day bears truth: "It's your body's cue that the long fast is over," Dr. MacFarlane says.

If you've been up all day but your first nosh isn't until 2 p.m., your mind and body won't be in full-on awake mode until then, he explains.

At the same time, eating late at night can confuse and stress your digestive system.

When Sarah Campbell, a nurse in training, worked the overnight shift four times a month at an Ottawa nursing home, she soon learned that her body wasn't prepared to digest late-night nibbles. "I just felt sick to my stomach," she says.

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3. Minimize caffeine

Every few weeks, medical student Kristjan Thompson has his schedule flipped when he's assigned the on-call night shift in obstetrics at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

Resetting his internal clock isn't easy, but Mr. Thompson says depending on stimulants such as coffee means you're always playing catch-up.

"You have energy when you shouldn't," he explains. "You're just working on borrowed time and borrowed energy."

David Schulman, the director of Emory University's sleep laboratory in Atlanta, says for that reason, you should avoid caffeine in the evening. And if you need more than two cups a day, it's probably a sign that you're sleep-deprived.



The bed is for two things: It's for sleep and sex. If you're not doing one of those things, you shouldn't be in bed. David Schulman, Emory University sleep lab


4. Take a cue from your kids

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While clocks and watches may rule how adults operate, kids let their bodies do the dictating.

"They pay strict attention to their own body clock, which actually makes them much more aware and in tune with the things that are important," Dr. MacFarlane says.

Rather than letting light or the irritating buzz of an alarm signal the start of a day, children get out of bed when they're well-rested, he says. In turn, it means they know to go to sleep when their bodies are tired, rather than when a clock tells them they should.

5. Get up when your alarm goes off

Hitting the snooze button when your alarm goes off can be tempting, but it isn't a healthy way to wake up.

"It's this emergency signal hauling you out of the deepest stage of sleep," Dr. MacFarlane says.

Studies suggest the blaring buzz of alarm clocks can raise blood pressure and elevate your heart rate - so why would you subject yourself to it multiple times by hitting snooze?

"While it will wake you up for work, it acts as the limiter for sleep," Dr. Schulman says. "Be cognizant of the fact that if you aren't waking up before the alarm, you are sleep-deprived."

And don't do this

Have a nightcap before bed. While it might help you fall asleep, it'll just wake you up a few hours later.

An app for naps - and other states of sleep

Proactive Sleep Clock for the iPhone or iPod Touch: Send your antiquated clock radio off to Goodwill - there's an app for your iPhone or iPod Touch ( www.proactivesleep.com ) that will do all the duties of the alarm clock and more. You can select any song from your music library to wake you up, chart how much sleep you're getting in the sleep diary, and even check how healthy your sleep was with the "vigilance task" - a game that tests how awake you are.

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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