On this coming Sunday, Daylight Saving Time (DST) will take effect at 2:00 a.m. in which time will "spring forward" one hour. Fortunately the switch in time occurs on the weekend and not during the midweek. However, many people who don't prepare ahead of time will experience symptoms of sleep loss similar to that of jet lag.
While DST can cause a few disruptions to our lives as we begin to adjust to the time change, one of the biggest problems people have (other than reprogramming all of their clocks) is the sleep loss they experience the next day. Here we have a few tips on how to avoid losing sleep during the change.
How Can Daylight Saving Time Affect Sleep Patterns?
Losing just one hour of sleep doesn't really sound like it could be all that bad. And in all honesty, if people were getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night, it wouldn't be anything more than a small, inconvenient bump in their schedule.
The sad truth is that 35% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours a night, and 20% of Americans sleep less than 6 hours. With so many people already experiencing regular sleep loss, an extra hour at night can be almost devastating.
The sleep loss from spring daylight saving time is similar to the sleep loss experienced from traveling east one time zone. As a rule of thumb it should only take about 1 day for a person's circadian rhythm to adjust to each hour of time change (less when traveling west where time is "gained"). Although, like previously stated, some people, including the elderly and those that are already not getting enough sleep, will have a tougher time adjusting.
If you're concerned that the jump forward in time will cause you more sleep problems than you already have, here are a few tips for adjusting to the time change. While some of these tips are specific to adjusting to daylight saving time or jet lag, many are simple sleep hygiene practices that are useful any time of the year.
How to Cope with Daylight Saving Time
Plan ahead. In the days leading up to the change in time, start adjusting early by going to bed or waking up a few minutes earlier each night. Whether going to bed earlier or waking is easier is up to you. The goal here is to make the eventual change less drastic by getting your body ready for the change by incrementally getting yourself to the new time. While you may be losing a few minutes each day, by the time Sunday rolls around, it shouldn't feel like you've lost almost any.
Keep your routine after the change. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday including weekends. Having a great sleep routine will help you adjust to the time shift quicker. Even though your body may not recognize right away that it's bedtime, but after a few days it will quickly fall into the new schedule.
Get natural light. Your circadian rhythm is regulated in large part by natural sunlight. Light suppresses the secretion of the hormone melatonin, and darkness promotes it. The "spring forward" change means that you will have more light at night, but less during the morning. To combat this, get as much light as possible early in the day, but avoid it later at night before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Try to avoid stimulating substances like caffeine and nicotine in the hours leading up to bed. It's often a good rule to not consume these substances after 2 p.m. Caffeine and nicotine can make getting to sleep more difficult as they block the production of sleep inducing chemicals.
Avoid alcohol. Many people falsely believe that alcohol promotes sleep, but it in fact causes poor sleep quality and disrupts sleep throughout the night. Consuming alcohol close to bedtime may make you feel sleepy and even fall asleep faster, but it reduces the overall amount of REM sleep, which is the mentally restorative period of sleep. Alcohol also relaxes muscles in the body, which can worsen existing symptoms of sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
Avoid heavy meals at night. Big meals close to bedtime also contribute to poor sleep quality. It's perfectly okay to eat a light snack before bedtime, but too much food can disrupt sleep. This is because of the effort it takes the body to digest food. As you sleep, many bodily functions slow down as restorative sleep processes take over, including the digestive system. When you eat large meals before bedtime, it reduces the amount of restorative sleep as the brain and body focus more on processing food rather than getting sleep. Also, the increased acid production in the stomach can creep up into the esophagus, burning the sensitive lining, and causing heartburn which can wake people from sleep. For more on the best foods for sleep click here.
Create a sleep-promoting environment. Your sleep environment can go a long way in triggering your readiness for sleep. Ideally, your bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. It should be dark, cool, comfortable, clutter free, and quiet. Electronic items should also be removed from the room both because of the stimulating content one consumes on these devices as well as the light emitting from them can keep one awake longer than desired. For more on creating an ideal sleep environment click here.
By following these simple tips and guidelines, you should be able to easily prepare for daylight saving time and there shouldn't be too much trouble in adjusting to the hour lost from the time change. If however, you are already having trouble sleeping on a regular basis, and the yearly time change compounds your sleep problems, you may want to have a sleep study to discover if you have a sleep disorder.
At the Alaska Sleep Clinic we specialize in diagnosing and treating a variety of sleep disorders. If you live in Alaska and believe your sleep troubles may be a sign of a disorder, click the link below to receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator who can quickly determine if you should have a sleep study performed.