Time Change Tips
The Daylight Saving Time (DST) change will force us to fall back and adjust our clocks back one hour. This effectively moves an hour of daylight from the evening to the morning, giving us those short winter nights. How time changes actually affect you depends on your own personal health, sleep habits, and lifestyle.
Moving our clocks in either direction changes the principal time cue, light, for setting and resetting our 24-hour natural cycle, or circadian rhythm. In doing so, our internal clock becomes out-of-sync or mismatched with our current day and night cycle. How well we adapt to this depends on several things.
How will you feel during this transition? If you get seven to eight hours of sound sleep and go to bed a little early the night before, you may wake up feeling refreshed. If you are sleep-deprived already, getting by on six hours, you’re probably in a bit of trouble, especially if you consume alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime. In this situation, you may experience the decreases in performance, concentration, and memory that are common to sleep-deprived individuals, as well as fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
What can you do to reset your internal clock to adapt more quickly to the time changes? Your circadian rhythm is internally generated but is influenced by the environment, behavior, and medications.
- As mentioned, light is the principal environmental cue. Light suppresses the secretion of the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. So it is important to expose yourself to daylight as much as possible and, conversely, do not expose yourself to bright light when it is dark outside. For example, if you get up at night to go to the bathroom, do not turn on the light. Prepare beforehand by installing a night light. Interestingly, specifically timed light therapy may either advance or delay your sleep cycle, depending on when it is delivered.
- Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe those actions you can take to create sleep-friendly environments and enhance your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping soundly. Basic sleep hygiene includes reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising several hours before bedtime, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax yourself (taking a hot bath for example), and wearing earplugs and eye masks.
- It is unlikely that medications would be needed for a simple one-hour time change of the clock, but in certain circumstances, like traveling across multiple time zones, hypnotic drugs like benzodiazepines may be used. They are primarily used to induce sleep when desired. Given their potential for addiction and the fact that they can negatively affect the quality of sleep, they should only be used under the direct guidance of a doctor or sleep specialist.
There may be some tired and groggy people hitting the streets. Interestingly, studies show an overall reduction in traffic accidents and fatalities due to DST changes. However, one study showed a significant increase in accident rates on the Monday following the DST change. You may want to just sit back and have another cup of coffee — decaf, of course — and go into work a bit later, when the sun is up.