At 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, our clocks will shift forward one hour, leaving us feeling sleepy and out of sorts. One hour of lost shut-eye isn’t really the problem: Time changes can wreak havoc on our internal circadian rhythms—the natural cycles that govern a wide range of the body’s processes.
Suddenly waking up in the dark makes this situation even worse. “Light in the morning helps to set our circadian rhythms,” says Nate Watson, M.D., professor of neurology at University of Washington and co-director of UW Medicine Sleep Center. “Right after the time change, we won’t have that natural wake-up cue.”
Most people can adjust to a one-hour time difference within a day or two, but don’t be surprised if you struggle longer. A 2015 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looked at how adolescents adjust to the onset of Daylight Saving Time. “We found that the effect was compounded as the week went on,” says Ana Krieger, M.D., medical director of the Weill Cornell Medical College Center of Sleep Medicine and one of the study authors. “The subjects were tired throughout the week and their reaction times were slower.”
You will eventually adjust to the new time, of course. But small changes to your routine this coming week can help make the transition seamless.
Tips for an Easy Time Change
- Go to bed early Saturday night—and avoid the temptation to sleep in: “If you get up at your normal time on Sunday morning, it will make it easier to fall asleep at the correct clock time Sunday night,” says Michael H. Bonnet, Ph.D., professor of neurology at Wright State Boonshoft School of Medicine. That way, you won’t lose another hour of sleep Sunday night and be even more sleep-deprived for work on Monday.
- Expose yourself to bright light as early as possible: Even if the sun’s not up when you get out of bed, get out in the sun as soon as it is. “That exposure to bright light will help nudge the body’s rhythm in the direction it needs to go,” says Bonnet.
- Skip the afternoon latte: “No coffee after 2pm is a good general rule for better sleep, but it’s even more important while trying to adjust to the time change and thus getting to bed earlier,” says Watson.
- Don’t schedule early morning meetings this week: “Our brains are still half asleep and alertness may be kicking in an hour or so later than usual until we adjust,” says Krieger.
- Take extra care on the road: There’s data showing an increase in car accidents on the Monday morning after Daylight Saving Time kicks in. So be careful and watch out for other sleepy drivers.
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