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How to "Spring Forward" after Daylight Saving Time This Year

Renee Despres
Monday, February 20, 2017 - 04:52waking up happily

It’s time to “spring forward” into daylight savings time on March 10, 2013. That one-hour shift in time can disrupt sleep patterns, especially people who have sleep problems and children. But with a little preparation, you can indeed “spring” out of bed on Sunday morning after a good night’s sleep.

Why is it so hard to adjust to a simple one-hour shift in the clock? The answer has to do with your circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells your body when it’s time to sleep, rise, eat, exercise, be alert, and … you guessed it… sleep.

In most people, that circadian clock works very well. Dr. Aparajitha Verma, a neurologist with the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute, says many people who are well rested and whose circadian rhythms  are in synch with their schedules don’t even need an alarm clock to get up in the morning.

But when you wake up on Sunday morning, your body clock will be set an hour behind the clock on dresser next to you. Even for the best sleepers, getting up on Sunday morning is likely to be a challenge – and a challenge that lingers well into the workweek.

If you’re one of the 70 million Americans with a sleep problem, the clock change may lead to restless nights, insomnia, and more. People who have trouble sleeping may already have an internal clock that is out of sync with the day-night cycle, says Verma. For those people, shifting the clock forward by an hour can wreak havoc with already precarious sleep patterns.  

It’s not only sleep that can be disrupted when circadian rhythms go haywire. Abnormal circadian rhythms have also been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, according to research summarized by the National Institutes of Health.

Need to Know: Do You Have a Sleep Disorder?

You could have a sleeping disorder if:

  • You cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes of lying down
  • You have excessive daytime sleepiness
  • You sleep for seven or more hours and still wake up tired

People with these symptoms should undergo an overnight sleep study at a center that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Still, there is good news about daylight saving time. With light lasting longer in the evening as temperatures warm, you'll be able to enjoy those spring and summer evenings. For most people, circadian rhythms easily reset within a few days after the change -- a small price to pay for evening soccer games, walks after dinner, and lingering sunsets. 

Plus, you can make the transition less painful and minimize the risk of sleepless nights. Here's how.

First, says Verma, anticipate the change. She recommends that people make sure they are well rested going in to the time change. “One way to do that,” she says, “is to start changing your hours before the time change. Get up an hour earlier. Retire an hour earlier.”

Likewise, sleep specialist Dr. Sunita Kumar suggests that in the days leading up to Daylight Saving Time, you start adjusting by going to bed and getting up a few minutes earlier each day. Kumar, who is Medical Director of Loyola’s Sleep Program and a Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, offers the following tips for resetting your circadian rhythm:

  • Don't nap on the Saturday before the time change.
  • To help reset your internal body clock, expose yourself to sunlight in the morning as early as you can. This will help advance your circadian rhythm.
  • Eat dinner earlier, back up your nighttime routine, and dim the lights in the evening.
  • Try to get your children to bed earlier, too.
Nice to Know: Exercise and Sleep

Exercise may help you sleep better. In a review of the literature on exercise and sleep, researchers from Canada and South Africa found that most studies and "studies of studies" (known as metaanalyses) suggest that people who exercise regularly tent to sleep a little longer and a little more deeply than people who don't exercise. However, they cautioned, more evidence is needed to definitively show just how effective exercise is at promoting sleep in most people.

Even if the evidence the exercise improves sleep is limited, exercise has many other health benefits. So it makes good health sense to incorporate at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming into your daily routine.

If you’re hoping that exercise will help you sleep better, schedule your exercise bout early in the day or during early evening.  But exercising right before bedtime may be counterproductive. “Exercise is good for sleep,” explains Verma, “but not within two hours of going to sleep.”

Of course, you should always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.

Good sleep hygiene can also help to ease the transition to daylight saving time.

  • Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep:  Verma recommends that you establish a nightly bedtime and stick to it. Sleep in a quiet and dark environment and set the thermostat at a slightly cooler temperature, which can help you sleep more soundly. Turn out the lights and turn off the noise.
  • Create a bedtime routine: Kids need a bedtime routine, and so do adults. Set a specific time when you’ll start getting ready for bed, says Verma. This “wind down” time should include a specific routine. A hot shower, a bedtime book,
  • Keep your bed to yourself: Don’t allow pets in the bed, or any other disruptive forces (like kids), if you're easily disturbed.
  • Beds are for sleeping: Use your bed for sleeping only, says Verma. Don’t read, eat, or watch TV while in bed. If you do, you’re cueing your mind to
  • If you do find yourself awake in the wee hours of the morning, do your best to ignore the clock.

If you still have trouble sleeping, avoid over the counter sleep aids, as these can disrupt sleep stages, says Verma. Instead, she advises try drinking warm, decaffeinated or herbal tea or milk to increase your body temperature, which helps induce and sustain sleep.


Image credit: warrengoldswain / 123RF Stock Photo