Every Fall, North America gets ready to turn its clocks back an hour, marking the end of daylight saving time (DST). For many, it’s a welcome excuse for an extra hour of sleep.
For others, it’s a disruptive practice that can throw our circadian rhythms out of whack for days, possibly even weeks. Even though we are only turning the clocks back one hour, that one hour can have a noticeable impact on our rest and schedules. What can you do if your sleep schedule is impacted by the end of daylight saving time? We reached out to experts to find out.
How does Daylight saving time affect sleep?
Daylight saving time is an annual practice of setting the clocks forward one hour in March, and turning them back one hour in November. The practice is meant to conserve natural light during months when it typically gets darker earlier.
But shifting schedules abruptly even if it is just one hour can affect sleep patterns for many.
“We all have a built-in body clock, or a circadian rhythm. Humans are on a schedule. What turns us on and trains us is all about light. Humans are not good nocturnal animals. We’re programmed to be awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark. In modern civilization we disrupt that [with daylight saving],” said Dr. Steven Feinsilver, a sleep medicine specialist with Northwell Health.
While changing the clocks one hour in either direction may not seem like a big deal, research shows that the transitions in the spring and fall can result in sleep loss and disruptions.
According to a position statementTrusted Source from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “The light/dark cycle is key in circadian entrainment. The acute alterations in timing due to transitions to and from DST contribute to misalignment between the circadian biological clock and the light/dark cycle (or photoperiod), resulting in not only acute personal disruptions, but significant public health and safety risks.”
The statement points out that most acute health-related effects are noted only when transitioning from standard to DST (“springing ahead” an hour). However, transitions both into and out of DST have been associated with sleep disruption, mood disturbances, and suicide.
The AASM says that as a result of these effects time changes during Daylight Saving Time can result in “social jet lag.”
How to get your sleep back
Americans aren’t very good sleepers to begin with.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 35 percentTrusted Source of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping on average for less than seven hours a night.
Throw in a twice-yearly time change, and it does not help those numbers get any better.
Still, there are ways that we can work to get our sleep back, and many of these practices can be used year-round to help stay on healthy sleep cycles.
“You can do what is called ‘sleep restriction,’ which is where you have the same bedtime and same wake-up time, no matter the time of year,” said Dr. Neha Mehta, a practicing physician who specializes in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine in the Southern California area. “Keeping the same wake time is more important than bedtime. No matter how tired you are, it is important to wake up at the same time every day. Avoiding naps as much as possible will help to save up your sleep drive for the night to make it easier to fall asleep.”
Other suggestions are to avoid caffeine and avoid bright light in the evening. Some experts say melatonin can help with sleep, but consult with a healthcare provider before taking supplements.
“Follow the basic rules of sleep,” echoed Feinsilver. “Consistency. If you want to be a good sleeper, you start with a wake-up time. Pick a time to wake up and stick to it. Get exposed to light and exercise when you wake up, as well.”
He also suggests counting backward from your wake-up time.
“If your goal is to get 7.5 hours of sleep, you are only allowed to get into bed 7.5 hours before your wakeup time. It may not be perfect, but it’s a place to start,” he said. “It’s behavioral trending. Beds are for sleeping.”
He also suggests that an hour before you get into bed, you have relaxing time, whether it’s ready or watching mindless television. Shut off personal electronics and do not bring the computer in bed.
“No matter what, get up at your wakeup time,” he says. “Don’t go back to bed until bedtime. You may have a few bad days, but soon you’ll be good at sleeping. It’s a powerful biological drive.”
Ending the DST ritual
For members of the sleep professional community, it has long been a hope that the government would do away with the changing of the clocksTrusted Source because it can be just that damaging for sleep cycles.
Mehta says people who want to end DST should write to their political representatives and “support the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in getting rid of DST and support Standard Time,” said Mehta. “Forever-summer days are night, but they are worse for your circadian rhythm, are unnatural, and can lead to worse sleep.”