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November 02, 2018
Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend, and most Americans will be setting their clocks back and looking forward to enjoying an extra hour of shuteye on Sunday morning. However, while not as painful as setting the clocks forward and losing an hour in the springtime, the fall Daylight Saving Time switch can be just as disruptive to our sleep habits. As Anthony Komanoff, M.D., wrote for the Harvard Health Blog, citing a study by Dr. Yvonne Harrison of Liverpool John Moores University, the fall shift commonly results in waking up earlier than intended, having trouble falling asleep at the desired time, and a greater chance of unwanted waking during the night. As in the spring, these undesirable effects are most strongly felt by so-called “short sleepers”—those who sleep less at night—and morning larks—people with an early-morning chronotype. What’s more, they can last for up to a week, as the body’s circadian rhythm adjusts to the new time schedule.
The remedy for these fall-back sleep setbacks? First, be aware that that the schedule change will affect your body and plan for it in advance. Schedule enough time for sleep (the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night for adults). If you’re able, ease your body into its new rhythm by going to bed a little bit later each night for the days leading up to the official switch, so that when it happens you’re not tempted to turn in an hour earlier than the clock indicates.
Second, practice good sleep hygiene. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool (the optimal temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit). Try to adhere to a set bedtime and waking time each day, even on the weekends. Finish any heavy meals and snacks at least 2-3 hours before you plan to go to sleep, so that digestion won’t interrupt your sleep. And avoid electronic screens for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light they emit can suppress your body’s natural production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Third, make sure you get plenty of natural light during the daytime, as this helps to regulate your circadian rhythm (and as an added bonus, it acts as a natural mood booster during the darker winter months). Start the first thing in the morning, either by leaving the curtains open (if the bright morning light won’t wake you up earlier than you want to) or opening them as soon as you get up. Morning can be an excellent time to fit in some outdoor exercise, which will expose you to sunlight and help you wake up quicker. If you can’t exercise in the morning, try to squeeze in a lunchtime walk outdoors, which will stave off any afternoon sleepiness and replenish your energy for the rest of the day. Exercising will also help you feel tired by bedtime, but try not to work out too close to the time you want to fall asleep in the evening—aim for at least two hours in between.
If you do find yourself feeling sleepy mid-day, feel free to indulge in short naps. However, try to avoid napping for too long or too close to your intended bedtime so that you don’t have a difficult time falling or staying asleep through the night. An ideal length for a nap is 20-30 minutes, as it allows you to avoid entering the deeper phases of sleep so that you don’t wake up groggy. And as Eva Selhub, M.D., points out, just resting in a dark, peaceful environment can be refreshing, even if you don’t actually fall asleep.
Finally, use the weekend of the Daylight Saving Time shift to your advantage, with the goal of getting as adjusted as possible to the new schedule by Monday morning. This may mean not sleeping in an extra hour on Sunday, and using that extra time to instead fit in another type of self-care. However you decide to use your extra hour, go easy on yourself as your body adjusts to the season’s new schedule, and be mindful of making time for sleep.
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