Most Americans set their clocks one hour ahead (2 a.m. is the official time for the jump) on Saturday, leaving Standard Time behind 'till next November. For some people, the switch to daylight saving time (DST) can trigger days or even weeks of sleeping problems. Parents complain that the lighter evenings make it harder to get the kids to bed. And studies even show that the incidence of car accidents and heart attacks spikes after the spring forward.
For many of us the time change is a nuisance at most, but some people experience more serious problems, says J. Todd Arnedt, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology, and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, at the University of Michigan. "We suspect that some folks may have more of a sensitive sleep system than others and are more vulnerable to perturbations like the time change, and it's more challenging for them to recover," he says. These sensitive sleepers may have trouble getting enough sleep for days or weeks after the clocks move forward, he says.
If turning the clocks forward tends to throw your inner timekeeper out of whack, you can take steps to help your body make an easier transition to DST. And since insomnia and other sleep problems are all too common these days, anyone who’d like to get better sleep can also benefit from these suggestions.
Follow this plan to align your body clock to Daylight Savings Time:
• Practice good sleep habits. Since you can’t reclaim that missing hour, it's especially important during the adjustment period that you stick to "good sleep hygiene," practices that give your body the best chance of deep, restful sleep. "Maintain consistent bedtimes and get-up times for all days of the week, including weekends," says Arnedt. "And follow a consistent wind-down routine for 30 to 60 minutes before sleep." Use that time for quiet, calming activities like reading or listening to relaxing music. Dim the lights. Take a bath. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. These types of natural sleep remedies tend to be more effective in the long term than sleeping pills or medication.
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• Use light and dark to your advantage. The lighter evenings and darker mornings can make it harder for your body to synch up with the time change, but you can counteract that by adjusting the lighting in your home so it's similar to preswitch light conditions. Pull the shades and turn down the lamps in the evening; use a timer to make a bedside lamp switch on in the morning, and get up and into bright light soon after you wake. Over the course of a few days, move your artificial lighting schedule closer and closer to what’s happening outside.
• Plan for some drowsy days. If you expect the time change to be a significant disruption to your sleep, do what you can to lighten your load while your body plays catch-up. Don't schedule important meetings or tasks. Try to avoid driving when you can, so your drowsiness won't endanger you or others. It's a good week to let someone else in the carpool take the wheel; it's not a good week for a cross-state family road trip to Grandma's.
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• Get the kids on the clock. It can be hard enough anytime to get your children to bed, but when the sun is suddenly higher in the sky, good luck. "We struggle in our house getting them to bed earlier," says Arnedt. "It's important to use light, which is the strongest time giver to your body clock, appropriately," he says. Other cues can work in your favor too, such as meal times and physical activity. So move your usual evening schedule forward one hour to keep it at its pre-DST clock time, and stick to it rigorously. "Children respond really well to consistent routines," Arnedt says.
Published on: March 9, 2009