The second Sunday of March plays an unfair trick on your body. On this day, we move the clocks forward by an hour for Spring daylight saving time.
In doing so, we are asking our bodies to fall asleep and wake up an hour earlier. But just because the clocks change doesn’t mean the body suddenly changes too. This is most clearly seen in children, who often have great difficulty changing their sleep schedule.
Why is the Daylight Saving Time Change so Difficult?
The time change is hard on us thanks to our internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. This internal clock helps keep a variety of bodily processes lined up in a roughly 24 hour pattern. Your sleep and wake timing is one such process.
Our circadian rhythm is what makes us feel tired just after lunchtime, and it also makes us feel quite awake just before it’s time to go to sleep at night.
For example, if you typically go to bed at 10 p.m. you should feel wide awake around 9 p.m. If you were asked to lay down an hour earlier than your typical bedtime, you’d have a hard time going to sleep — unless, of course, you are sleep deprived. But that is exactly what you are asking of your body when the clocks shift during Spring daylight saving time.
Data show that after this adjustment, people sleep an average of 40 minutes less than on a typical night. Adjusting the internal clock takes time.
Think 40 minutes can’t make a difference? We know from large studies that the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and driving accidents increase in the few days following Spring daylight saving time. It’s a real issue!
Retraining Your Brain
So what can you do to help adjust the internal clock and get adequate sleep?
Here are some tips to consider:
- Start early. The week prior to the change, slowly move your nighttime routine and bedtime earlier by 10 minutes each day and wake up 10 minutes earlier than normal.
- Watch when you eat. Just as you are moving your bedtime earlier by 10 minutes each day, try to do the same with your eating schedule. Food intake can help set your body clock’s timing.
- Avoid the light. Light from the environment is the main signal to your brain’s clock. Too much light at night and the brain wants to stay up even later. This includes light from TVs and smartphones. It is vital to avoid bright lights for 30 minutes prior to bed as a normal part of good sleep practices. It is especially important when trying to adjust your body clock.
- Don’t avoid the light. Morning light has the opposite effect of nighttime light. If you are trying to wake and sleep earlier, getting plenty of light first thing in the morning will help.
Although the transition during daylight saving time can be tough, remember that losing an hour due to the time change doesn’t have to set you back. Instead of seeing the lost hour as a ripoff, Mattress Firm sees it as an opportunity to reset your body clock and sleep better.
About The Author
Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and author of the book “My Child Won’t Sleep.” Dr. Kansagra offers Daily Doze readers tips and insight about the importance of sleep, especially for kids who need plenty of rest to grow and develop. Dr. Kansagra graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also completed training as a pediatric neurologist. He did his fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, before joining the faculty at Duke as an assistant professor. He specializes in treating a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnias. He shares advice on sleep, medicine, and education through his Twitter accounts @PedsSleepDoc and @Medschooladvice. When he’s not busy at work or on social media, Dr. Kansagra enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And yes, they are both great sleepers.
Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team.