Daylight Savings Hacks: Does the Clock Change Really Affect Sleep Patterns?


It’s just an hour! It’s more daylight! If you’ve been feeling disoriented, grumpy, and groggy since Daylight Savings Time kicked into gear on March 11, you may be wondering how such a small shift can have such an outsized effect on your state of mind and body. Are you imagining the change? Does that hour, particularly to an already sleep deprived new parent (or not-so-new parent), really make such a difference that it takes you a week or more to feel whole again? Let’s figure it out.

First, what is Daylight Savings? It's when we switch, for the spring and summer months, to a clock setting in which the daylight hours are shifted forward. Think of it as grabbing an hour of daylight from the early morning, and tacking it onto the end of the day instead, where it’s presumably more useful and enjoyable. 

That’s the theory, anyway.

But for some reason, “losing” an hour of sleep (which effectively is what often happens, depending on your normal sleep-wake patterns) is harder on your body then “gaining” 60 minutes in autumn, when we “fall back” to standard time. How can that be, given that there’s the same number of hours in a day? It’s sort of like traveling east by plane, a harder transition on your sleep patterns than heading west.

When it stays lighter later, many people have a harder time settling down to sleep, or are restless. The clear solution is to go to bed an hour earlier and get up an hour earlier, but who can really manage that—especially if you have a baby who hasn’t figured out sleep yet at all, or a toddler revving his engine at all hours regardless of what the clock says? And thus, at least for the short term as you adjust to the difference, you feel it, in the same way you might feel jet lag.

Experts say that even that little bit of extra sleeplessness at night or sleepiness during the day can take its toll on you. Here’s how:

- Your mood may dip. When you’re sleep-deprived, a part of your brain called the amygdalawhich regulates emotions and moodbecomes more reactive. (Imagine your amygdala as a toddler who missed his nap, and you’ll understand.) Increased daytime sleepiness also contributes to issues with memory, concentration, and productivity.

- Your productivity may suffer. Several studies have shown that an increase in daytime sleepiness also contributes to issues with memory, concentration, and productivity.

- You may be more accident-prone. Both workplace injuries and car accidents rise during the days and weeks post-time change.

- Your eating habits can shift. Being tired makes many of us reach for carb-heavy foods for energy, but it’s also been shown that a shift in sleep patterns can mess with hormonal cues about appetite and satiety.

What do I do about it?

The best expert advice is to give yourself a time-change head start by going to bed a bit earlier and waking a bit earlier in the days leading up to the change. That’s no longer practical—the clock deed is done, and even if you’d had a heads-up about this practical advice, not a lot of new parents can manage that feat. With hat said, you can still help your body adjust and avoid some of the negative effects of this jet lag-like period:

- Look to the light. It’s all about your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal sleep-wake cycle—and it’s governed by light. The more you expose yourself to natural light, particularly in the morning, the better able your body is to reset its own clock. Pull up the shades, eat breakfast near a sunny window, and/or take a short walk in the sunshine.

- Skip post-lunch caffeine. Even if you can normally manage to down an afternoon latte and still sleep at night, try to skip that crutch for the time being, just to give yourself the very best chance to fall asleep on time.

- Avoid naps for now. It's the same principle as above; you want to give yourself every opportunity to feel tired enough to sleep well at night, which is your best way to feel refreshed and reset.

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