How to Adjust Your Sleep Schedule for Daylight Savings Time

It’s that time of year again – Daylight Savings Time.

This March 10, you’ll join with people all over the country in losing a night of sleep.

While the spring forward may not be one of the most cherished holidays in this country, there are at least a few ways you can make the transition a little easier on yourself.

Here are the best ways to adjust your sleep schedule for Daylight

Image: clock in a tree in bloom, representing Daylight Savings TimeWhen Is Daylight Savings Time?

For almost all of the United States, Daylight Savings Time kicks in at 2 AM on the second Sunday of March – this year, March 10.

You’ll be setting your clocks forward an hour, so we’ll technically just jump straight from 1:59 AM to 3 AM with nothing in between.

Almost the entire country participates in DST, with the exception of Hawaii and most of Arizona.

The Arizona Navajo Nation, however, doesn’t do Daily Savings Time, either.

Most people will have recovered from the sudden shift in schedule within a few days, although it might take some unlucky souls out there up to a week.

The average American loses about 40 minutes of sleep on the night after the change, and the average number of traffic accidents that Monday actually increases by about 6.8% (from 78.2 on a typical Monday to 83.5).

Why Is the Change so Hard?

Our bodies tend to appreciate regularity in our sleep schedules above just about anything else, which is what makes this transition so difficult for so many people.

You’ve probably heard of circadian rhythms – the roughly once-daily hormonal cycles that impact all kinds of processes in the body, including your sleep.

When you’re going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day, your brain is able to anticipate your needs.

You’ll start feeling tired right around when you normally settle down for bed, and if you’re getting enough sleep, you’ll also be most ready to wake up right around your alarm.

Establishing this kind of rhythm is what makes keeping a regular bedtime and wakeup time one of the most important steps to improving your sleep.

This doesn’t just apply to Daylight Savings Time, but also to your sleep hygiene overall.

The more you can avoid staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends, the smoother your circadian rhythms will be.

Image: man setting clockEase Your Way In

Because of this, Daylight Savings Time will be easiest for you if you ease your way in over the course of the prior week.

Ideally, you’ll want to start your transition four days prior to the time change itself, and just move your bedtime and wakeup time back by 15 minutes every night.

This saves you from having to make any sudden changes to your schedule, while also acclimating your body at a more natural pace.

Making this change slowly is especially important because, in a lot of ways, DST makes mornings a lot harder than they have to be.

Your sleep/wake cycle is designed to work with the rhythms of the sun.

It’s always easiest to wake up when it’s bright outside, and easiest to go to bed when it’s dark.

If you’re having to wake up before sunrise, it’s understandable if your mornings go a little bit more slowly than you’ve grown accustomed to.

Try exposing yourself to as much bright light as possible while you’re still waiting for the sun to come up, and be patient with yourself if coming awake happens more slowly than you think it should. 

Be Careful With Naps

Especially during the first few days of Daylight Savings Time, it can be really tempting to grab a couple siestas throughout the day to catch up on lost sleep.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with midday naps, if you don’t plan them out properly, it’s very easy to confuse your sleep schedule even more.

What Time Should You Nap?

For most people, the ideal napping timeframe crops up somewhere between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.

Your core body temperature actually drops slightly during these couple hours, and as it falls, so too do your energy levels.

Staying awake in the early afternoon can sometimes be difficult even if you’re fully rested – and if you’ve just lost an hour of sleep, you can pretty much forget about staying awake.

This time block is also ideal because naps during this time are very unlikely to mess up your sleep schedule.

Once you start getting too far past 3pm, you run the risk of destabilizing your circadian rhythm, making it even harder to sleep at night.

How Long Should You Nap?

Even if you’re sleeping at the right times, though, it’s still possible to mess up your day by sleeping for too long.

The best naps are typically only between 10 and 30 minutes long.

Once you go any longer than that, you start getting into the realm of REM sleep – the deep, restorative sleep stage where most dreaming takes place.

People woken up during REM sleep typically suffer from major sleep inertia – that is, they’re often groggy and low-functioning for anywhere from a few minutes to a couple hours after waking up.

A full sleep cycle generally lasts around 90 minutes, at which point you transition into a fairly light sleep that it’s easy to wake up from.

Between half an hour and an hour and a half, though, you don’t want to be woken up!

Image: businessman holding full coffee mug almost the size of himselfDon’t Overdo it on Caffeine

In addition to naps, another common response to sleep loss is, of course, caffeine.

But while there’s nothing wrong with grabbing an extra cup of coffee in the morning to wake up, you start running into problems once you’re in the afternoon.

Most people don’t realize it, but for most people, caffeine has a half-life of somewhere around 6 hours.

This means that if you drink 100mg of coffee at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a full 50 milligrams of the stuff will still be in your body at 10 o’clock at night!

Because of this, it pays to be careful about your caffeine consumption when trying to account for lost sleep.

Also keep in mind that things like soda, most chocolates, and even many so-called “decaffeinated” coffees and teas have some amount of caffeine in them, which is why it’s a pretty bad idea to have any of that stuff too late in the day.

Tips for Getting to Bed Earlier

Now, so far we’re mostly been talking about ways to make it easier to get through the day.

When you’re going to bed at night, though, it can often be difficult to get your brain to wind down an hour earlier than it’s used to.

To some extent, this kind of retraining just takes time.

However, you can help your body get through this process faster with the help of some sleep-inducing techniques.

Create a Sleep “Buffer Zone”

One of the best ways to do this is to create a so-called “buffer zone” between the rest of your day and your sleep.

Many people have trouble getting their minds to slow down at night, which makes sleep difficult – sometimes impossible.

We spend so much of our time trying to get everything done, but that means our brains don’t know when it’s time to stop!

Because of this, experts recommend setting aside about half an hour every night to just let yourself wind down.

Don’t check any emails, don’t have any stressful conversations, don’t do any housework.

Just give your mind a chance to settle after a day of hard work.

Avoid Electronics at Night

Now, when a lot of people think about winding down, the first thing that comes to mind is something like looking at your phone or watching TV.

However, there are a couple reasons why any amount of screen time at night can seriously impede your sleep.

First of all, electronics are often just too stimulating.

Your brain needs to know when it’s OK to relax, but our devices are constantly streaming things designed to catch out attention.

Not only does this mean it takes us longer to calm down, but it also makes it easy to lose track of time.

Before you know it, it’s 1 AM – and you don’t even feel tired!

In addition to causing these psychological issues, most modern electronics also directly disrupt our brain chemistry’s normal function.

You see, release of the hormone melatonin is closely linked to feelings of sleepiness.

Our brains produce melatonin in response to darkness, so any exposure to bright, artificial lighting at night inhibit production of this vital chemical.

The blue-wavelength light produced by most modern electronics LED screens has a particularly negative impact on melatonin production, which is why many experts recommend setting aside all devices for at least an hour before bed.

Instead, consider other soothing activities like reading, listening to music, or just having some late-night conversations.

Conclusion

With any luck, you should now feel ready to take on Daylight Savings Time with the confidence you need.

It’s always a bit of a pain, but within a couple days, you’ll be back on your feet and feeling 100%.

Hope that’s helpful!

Good luck out there, and pleasant dreams.