4 Simple Steps to Prepare for Daylight Savings

Gradual Changes and Morning Sunlight May Ease Transition

man reaching to turn off alarm clock
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For most of us, we realize Daylight Saving Time is upon us just a few days before the time change occurs. Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared for the time adjustment before it happens? Learn why this preparation, especially to soften the loss of sleep in the spring, may be important to our overall health and discover some simple ways to ease this transition.

What Is Daylight Saving Time?

Daylight Saving Time is a twice per year adjustment of clock times to better synchronize the workday to natural light conditions.

It is known as Summer Time in Europe and is not universally observed. It has been useful among agrarian societies. It also has been advocated to reduce resources required to produce artificial light.

The adjustment can be remembered with a simple mnemonic: “Spring ahead, fall back.” This highlights the fact that clocks are moved forward one hour in the springtime and one hour backward in the autumn. The precise timing of this adjustment varies year to year. Typically the clocks are changed at 2 a.m. on the date of the shift.

The Health Impacts of Daylight Saving Time Changes

There is some research that supports that the clock adjustments associated with Daylight Saving Time may have some health consequences. In particular, the loss of sleep that occurs in the spring may affect heart health.

Large population studies out of Europe seem to suggest there are risks associated with the sleep loss that occurs as clocks are set forward.

Most people do not go to bed earlier the night of the adjustment, but instead just struggle to wake as they set their alarm clock ahead and get less sleep. This may lead to one hour of sleep deprivation.

Reviewing population data suggests that the Monday after the time adjustment forward demonstrates significantly higher rates of heart attack, car accidents, and overall death (called mortality).

Conversely, in the fall when clocks are moved backward, allowing another hour of sleep, these adverse events decline. These health consequences may be directly related to the abrupt sleep deprivation, which is often associated with other health problems, including obesity, physical effects, and even psychiatric symptoms.

How to Prepare for Daylight Saving Time

Fortunately, it is possible to ease yourself into the transition for Daylight Saving Time. This can be accomplished through a few simple steps:

1) Know when it occurs.

First, it is easiest to prepare for something that you know is coming. To this end, you can start by reviewing the dates for the time adjustments this year. Perhaps it would be helpful to make a note on your calendar. Then, as the time approaches, you can start to make further adjustments to your sleep schedule.

2) Make a gradual change.

The time change that occurs in the fall is often a relief with additional sleep, but the loss of sleep in the spring can be disagreeable.

In order to make waking in the mornings following the spring time change more pleasant, it can be very helpful to gradually adjust your sleep schedule. Rather than suddenly losing one hour of sleep, ease into it gently by following an incremental adjustment in the spring:

Day(s) Prior to Change – Bedtime – Wake Time

4 – 10 PM – 6 AM

3 – 9:45 PM – 5:45 AM

2 – 9:30 PM – 5:30 AM

1 – 9:15 PM – 5:15 AM

0 – 9 PM – 6 AM (Daylight Saving Time Adjustment Day)

Of course, these times would vary based on your baseline sleep schedule. Just like adjusting to a new time zone with jet lag, these incremental changes in your bedtime and wake time will help your body’s circadian rhythm gradually adjust to the new clock time.

3) Expose yourself to morning sunlight.

One of the most powerful influencers of our body’s circadian clock is exposure to morning sunlight. By getting sunlight into our eyes promptly upon awakening, this intense signal directly influences the hypothalamus of our brain. This can impact not only our sleep timing but also metabolism, hormone release, and other variables.

As soon as you can after waking, spend 15 minutes in direct sunlight. If you wake and it is still dark, obviously wait for sunrise. Do not wear sunglasses. Do not wear a hat or visor. It is not necessary (or safe) to stare directly into the sun. Rather, let it incidentally hit your eyes while you avert your gaze elsewhere. This can be accomplished while having your morning coffee on the porch, going for a short walk, or reading over the morning news outside.

4) Melatonin may (weakly) affect sleep timing.

Finally, people often wonder if melatonin is effective in adjusting to Daylight Saving Time. The body naturally releases this hormone during sleep in small amounts from the pineal gland of the brain. When taken as a supplement, it likely has a weak influence on sleep for most people. It is mildly hypnotic, meaning that it may make you feel sleepy. This makes it a popular over-the-counter sleep aid. In blind people, melatonin taken several hours before bedtime may have a beneficial influence on non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. Unfortunately, for most sighted people, melatonin may only weakly enhance sleep as time changes occur.

What to Do If You’re Too Late (Or Sleeping Poorly)

If you have failed to prepare yourself for Daylight Saving Time change, you may just abruptly adjust the clocks, as most people do. Again, this may be well-tolerated in the autumn. In the spring, it may take a few days to adapt to the new schedule. You may experience a little insomnia at the beginning of the night, which could be improved by temporarily keeping to a later bedtime. It may be a little hard to wake with the alarm, but morning sunlight will help you to adjust.

Should you find yourself struggling from chronic issues of insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness, Daylight Saving Time may be just the occasion to remind you to meet with a sleep physician to get the treatments you need to sleep and feel better.

Sources:

"Daylight Time." The United States Naval Observatory. 

Janszky, I and Ljung, R. "Shifts to and from Daylight Saving Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction." N Engl J Med 2008; 359:1966-1968.

Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." Elsevier, 5th edition.

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