Soon, another Daylight Saving Time will be upon us. This isn’t new, of course, yet every year you may see it come and go and never really understand what is happening. You would be far from the only person who doesn’t understand why you are setting your clock backwards. Even fewer people realize the effect this seemingly simple change is having on their sleep, body, and health.
In the autumn, you are told that by changing your clocks back an hour you are “gaining an hour of sleep.” Yet, it really doesn’t feel this way. The truth is that moving our clocks in either direction changes or resets our 24-hour natural cycle, our circadian rhythm. In doing so, our internal clock becomes out of sync and mismatched with our current day-night cycle. Think of it like traveling on an airplane to an area more than a few hours away from home. Whether we go East or West, we are no longer in sync internally with what time the clock tells us. An "earlier" bedtime may cause difficulty falling asleep and increased wakefulness during the early part of the night. We could possibly fall asleep easily, but then have a difficult time waking. On the other end, a “later” bedtime will make you feel groggier, earlier. That’s no good at all! How well you adapt to this forced time change depends on following a few simple tips:
#1 Set a Goal and Stick to it. While the time on the clock may be different, your sleep needs are still exactly the same. Make a deal with yourself that you’re going to plan for the full seven to eight hours of sleep every day, even if the day is an hour shorter or longer. Simply do the math and work backwards from the time you need to get up and set your bedtime. Setting aside time to get the sleep you need is the best gift you can give yourself, whether it is a time change or not.
#2 Give Yourself Time to Adjust. A general rule of thumb is that it takes about one day to adjust for each hour of time change. This is very simplistic though, and if you are already sleep deprived or over-stressed, it may take longer. Most of us feel it for at least a few days. If you have the choice, don’t plan anything major for the morning following a time change. Within a day or two, you should feel back to normal and able to carry on your morning activities without any negative results.
#3 Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment. If you are following Rule #1 above, you may need to put yourself to bed earlier than you feel is really “right.” You can make this easier for yourself by reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising early on in the day, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax yourself, staying away from screens, eliminating light from your room, and wearing an eye mask, just to name a few. Don’t forget about having high-quality pillows, the right bed linens, and even a new mattress pad to create a truly perfect environment.
This is only the beginning of the steps you can take to ensure you get a good night sleep. Don’t forget how important your mattress, pillows, and sheets are for a well-rested night as well. With a little effort and planning, you won’t feel like you are missing any sleep at all-regardless of what the clock tells you!