Will a 1-hour time shift mess with your sleep & mood? Fight back!
It’s a short 60 minutes, but the twice-yearly shift that occurs for daylight savings time is long enough to throw your sleep, body, and mood out of whack. And the impact is not insignificant.
A 2016 study found that the overall rate for strokes jumps 8% for days afterward. The risk of heart attacks leap by 10% and cognitive abilities drop. The blame lies squarely on our disrupted circadian rhythms, which can rob you of an average of 40 minutes of sleep. While some groups are lobbying to end daylight savings time because of its health ramifications and questionable usefulness, it won’t be happening anytime soon.
So how can you survive Daylight Saving Time?
You could move, of course. States like Arizona and Hawaii don’t observe the time change. Or head to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan where you won’t have to deal with it there either.
It seems a bit dramatic to relocate your whole life for one hour. So, we asked some top sleep experts for their tips and tricks on how to make it through the transition unscathed. First though, some straight answers about DST.
What’s the deal with daylight savings time and how does it mess with our body?
“I have to admit, for a week in the fall and a week in the spring I have some very grouchy patients,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, an integrative medicine practitioner based in Miami. “When the collective time is changed for almost the entire population, there is going to be a huge collateral effect, from headaches to insomnia.”
When sleep patterns change it takes about 3-7 days for a patient to acclimate to it, she says. Many people will be hopped up on coffee because they’re tired or irritable.
“For millions of years, we walked this planet with our pineal gland in synch with the rising and setting sun. This coordination increases serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help regulate sleep and reduce depression. If you abruptly change that pattern by altering sleep and wake times, there will be physical and emotional effects.”
DST disrupts our internal circadian rhythms, affecting our weakest link – mood and sleep are intrinsically linked for almost everyone. If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re at risk for an accident, or health malady, because of the change of light you’re seeing, how it registers in your brain and the production of sleep hormones.
Same as jet lag, but everyone in your time zone has it.
Why are circadian rhythms so crucial?
According to Dr. Haissam Dahan, owner of the Ottawa TMJ & Sleep Apnea Clinic in Canada, “We all have a circadian rhythm that is essentially a 24-hour internal clock running in the background of our brain which cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It helps us know when to sleep and when we should wake up.”
With the invention of the light bulb in 1879, we started to artificially control when we slept and woke up. Unfortunately, this artificial wake/sleep cycle is further disrupted every six months through the current use of daylight saving time that many countries adopt.
“Daylight saving time is intended to make use of the longer daylight hours,” he adds, “but it can disrupt our natural sleep cycle.”
How to ease into spring daylight saving time
1. Gradually transition into the time change
“Try to go to sleep 15 minutes early or late (depending on the change) every few days starting one week before the time change to allow your body a smoother transition,” suggest Dr. Dahan. Changing your cycle by an hour in only one night will have an impact on your daily efficiency for the first few days, but gradually transitioning will not impede on your daily duties.
2. Stick to your bedtime routine
He also suggests doing the same things every night to help train your brain to recognize your ideal bedtime. Have dinner at the same time, do the same activities at night and go to bed at the same time. When the body and brain do the same things enough time, it will understand that it’s time to shut down for the night and let you fall asleep quickly.
3. Eat smart and choose sleep-inducing foods
Eating healthy is vital for optimal sleep, and some foods are ideal to have as a bedtime snack. Think decaffeinated chamomile tea, a glass of milk, almonds, and bananas. Avoid snacking or having meals within three hours of bedtime. A full belly isn’t conducive to good sleep.
4. Relax before you sleep
“Avoid doing anything that will cause stress or excite you before getting ready for bed,” warns Dr. Dahan. That means skipping high-intensity television shows and anxiety-provoking nightly news. Put the brakes on responding work-related emails. Instead, consider reading a book in incandescent light.
5. Go to bed earlier
The hours between 10 pm and midnight can offer us some of the best and most restorative sleep. Set an alarm to go to bed earlier to take advantage of those precious sleep hours. That will do wonders in helping you ease into the time change come Monday morning.
6. Ignore your clocks and the “real-time”
While you may be tempted to play the “it’s really XX o’clock game” and think about what the time would be without DST, just don’t do it. It’s important to make the mental switch, not just physical, so you can get into a new groove more quickly. Change your clocks before you head to bed.
7. Soak up the morning light
Light plays a crucial role in determining our circadian rhythms, deeply ingrained patterns that dictate the body’s internal clock for eating, sleeping, and waking.
Konrad Jarausch, a California-based engineer and scientist who has studied the effects of light on health extensively, suggests that you get outside first thing in the morning for 10-15 minutes to help adjust to daylight savings time. Don’t worry about exercising. Just soak up the natural light for 3-4 days after moving clocks forward an hour.
“Your eyes tell the time of day by the amount of blue light they receive,” he explains. “The body is the most sensitive to it in the morning.” Natural daylight has plenty of blue light to help reset your body clock.
He also says that we should be more disciplined in the evening around daylight savings time. Though experts recommend not using electronics at night, which emit blue light and trick your brain into believing it’s time to be awake, many of us find it difficult to heed that rule. Daylight savings time is the perfect time to put away cell phones, tablets, and laptops at bedtime. A better night’s sleep is the payoff.
Also, consider specially designed lamps that emit the right kind of light appropriate for the time of day. Jarausch, the founder of Sunlight Inside, has created his own versions. They come pre-set (dependent on the purchaser’s shipping location) and will deliver a natural light experience indoors. No app or set up needed. For example, one of its models uses blue light in the morning to help send awake signals and soft, candle-like light for the evening to encourage relaxation. The lamps recreate the natural light cycle. “Healthy light is part of a healthy lifestyle,” he says.