If Daylight Saving Time leaves you feeling discombobulated, you're not alone. Doctors report a 24% spike in heart attacks around the country each time the clock springs forward, and a 21% decrease when the clocks fall back in the autumn. The incidence of workplace injuries also rises on the Monday after the clocks change in the spring, as employees get an average of 40 fewer minutes of shut-eye the night before. Studies have even shown that Daylight Saving Time can lead to a brief increase in depressive episodes. That's all because it messes with our sleep schedule — and a good night's sleep is one of the most important things we can give to ourselves.
"It’s difficult to find a part of our health that isn’t impacted by our sleep," says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., the environmental fellow for The National Sleep Foundation. "Among many other functions, healthy sleep is important for healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels, reducing risk for obesity, promoting healthy cognitive functioning, and promoting a healthy immune response."
But there's hope: Sleep experts say there are better ways to reduce the time change's impact on your body, your schedule and your general well-being. Here's their advice for surviving the fall back, so you can feel more motivated to make the most of that extra morning daylight.
Adjust your schedule slowly.
Start now to get your body ready for the time shift, says Benjamin Smarr, Ph.D., Reverie Sleep Advisory Board Member and assistant professor at the University of California San Diego. He suggests shifting your bedtime and wake-up time by 15 minutes each day (and the rest of your schedule accordingly) leading up to the change, so your body can adjust more gradually.
Lay off the liquor.
Even though alcohol can make you feel drowsy, it actually keeps your body from getting good rest, according to Smarr. It disrupts the REM cycle and can cause you to wake frequently during the night. So don't think an extra glass of wine will knock you out — it won't actually help you feel more rested.
Banish bright lights.
Bright lights trick your brain into thinking it's time to get up, so try to avoid them starting late in the afternoon if you're concerned about the time change impacting your ability to fall asleep. Thanuja Hamilton, M.D., a board certified sleep doctor and Reverie Sleep Advisory Board Member, says to start dimming the lights at least 30 to 60 minutes before you hit the sack, especially blue lights like your phone.
Skip the afternoon coffee break.
Because caffeine keeps you alert, Hamilton suggests laying off the caffeinated beverages in the afternoon, at least until your body adjusts to the time change. Even if you don't feel the buzz, it can still cause you to lie awake.
Don't hit the snooze button.
While the amount of sleep you need and when your body naturally gets tired depends on your personal circadian rhythm, or chronotype, sleeping in the morning after the time change can delay your body's ability to adjust, says Hamilton. It's best to get yourself on a consistent schedule as soon as possible.
Nap with caution.
If you feel yourself getting sleepy mid-afternoon, that's natural. "As humans, we all feel tired around the same time of day, 2 to 4 p.m.," says Smarr. "It’s completely natural to want to get some rest during this period." That said, limit your nap to no longer than 30 minutes and don't nap too late in the day or you won't be able to fall asleep later, Dautovich adds.
Get some exercise.
Getting your blood flowing earlier in the day can help tire you out, so your body is ready to hit the sack on time. But don't do a high-intensity workout right before bed, or you might be too amped to sleep. If evening is the only time you can squeeze in a sweat sesh, Dautovich recommends practicing mindfulness or meditation before bed to get your brain to slow down.
Avoid late, heavy meals.
Because your body has to work overtime to digest it, eating a rich, heavy meal right before bed can disrupt your sleep. Dautovich recommends a light snack of whole wheat crackers and cheese or a handful of nuts instead, so your grumbling stomach doesn't keep you up either.
Use light to your advantage.
When your body already doesn't want to wake up, the way you do it can really have an impact. "Waking up to bright, cool white lighting can be a bit jarring," explains Cathy Choi, president of Bulbrite. "That’s why waking up to lights that mimic the sun rising feels more natural and helps you feel more ready to wake up versus a sudden jolt with a bright light or loud alarm." If you can't (or don't want to) wake up with the actual sun, try smart lighting that mimics it instead.
Avoid drowsy driving.
No matter which of these tips you employ, watch out for drowsy driving or operating machinery after Daylight Saving Time. Smarr points out that it usually takes a few days for the body to adjust to the time change, which leads to more accidents in the following days. Stay alert, and if you find yourself feeling sleepy, consider carpooling or hitching a ride instead.
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