An alarm clock lies in a pillow.
Enjoy that extra hour in dreamland. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

We know most people don’t get enough sleep.

With the “fall back” part of Daylight Saving Time happening this weekend, people can look forward to gaining a little sleep time.

But does that one hour really matter?

Spectrum Health sleep specialist Kelly Waters, MD, says yes.

“An hour of sleep is more important than people might suspect,” says Dr. Waters. “One additional hour of sleep means extra REM. …REM sleep has multiple benefits.”

Dr. Waters said one hour of extra sleep can help:

  • Improve memory
  • Make the difference between feeling tired and feeling alert
  • Impact ability to make decisions
  • Improve your productivity
  • Help support the immune system to protect from illness
  • Support goals such as weight loss

Jason Coles, MD, a sleep medicine specialist who works with patients at the Spectrum Health Sleep Disorders Center and at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said that despite some misconceptions, our memory function relies on more than just the deep sleep of the first half of the night.

“The second half of the night—where we’re in the REM sleep and the more shallow stages of sleep—seemed to have some additional benefit that kind of protects you against the negative effects of the stress,” Dr. Coles said.

The latest research reinforces the notion that we need to get enough sleep if we want to do our best work, and that extra hour could help.

Dr. Coles’ expert tips for healthy sleep:

  1. Get enough sleep each night. The optimal amount isn’t the same for everyone, but adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep for top cognitive ability. Another way to looking at it, Dr. Coles said, is to “know how much sleep you need to feel rested when you get up, and try to get at least that much.”
  2. Stick with a regular schedule—awake during the day, asleep at night. “The body has a process called the circadian rhythm, which tells us what time of day to be most alert and awake. … If you’re trying to be awake at the time of day when your body’s actually telling you to be sleepy, that throws off your functioning,” Dr. Coles said. Keeping to a regular rhythm helps you to focus and do your best during the day.
  3. Create a healthy environment for sleep by keeping the room cool, quiet and dark. This includes removing TVs, computers, tablets and chirping cell phones from the bedroom.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol “tends to help you to fall asleep quicker, but it also tends to wake you up more throughout the night,” Dr. Coles said.
  5. If you have trouble falling asleep, let yourself unwind. Choose relaxing activities for the hour before bedtime to give yourself a winding-down period.