Categories: Sleep Science

Does Daylight Savings Time Affect Sleep?

This year, Daylight Savings Time (DST) starts on March 10, and we’ll be springing our clocks forward; therefore, we’ll be essentially “losing” an hour of sleep. Read on to learn how Daylight Savings Time affects your sleep and what you can do to lessen the affects and make the transition easier.

DST is something we practice annually. It’s the act of setting your clocks forward in the spring one hour ahead of the standard time.

DST is practiced differently worldwide. States in the U.S. and other countries have practiced it over time to varying extents, beginning and ending it on different days. Some countries and states in the U.S. don’t observe it at all.

Most areas of the U.S. practice daylight saving time, however, with the exceptions being Arizona (except for the Navajo, who observe DST on tribal lands), Hawaii, and some overseas territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Daylight Savings Time And Sleep

While we only change our clocks by one hour during DST when we spring forward our clocks, the act can have noticeable effects. This seems to be particularly the case in spring ― since we “lose an hour” of the day,  which is usually taken away from our time spent sleeping.

And, if you are already struggling with sleep deprivation, this one hour can negatively impact how you function and feel during the day. It may even compromise how alert you are and your reaction time when you drive.

In fact, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in England, Dr. Yvonne Harrison, made a review in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, and concluded that losing even just an hour in your sleep cycle can impact your sleep for up to a week.

How Losing An Hour Of Sleep Feels

Losing that hour can feel like a mild case of jet lag. Your body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) can be thrown off course, affecting the amount of melatonin it releases.

Also, before springing the clocks forward, it was probably light outdoors, when you woke up in the early morning. The sunlight helps the internal clock of your body activate regions of the brain involved in stimulating energy and alertness.

After springing forward, it’s dark in the early hours of the morning. This means the internal clock of your body might not be quite ready yet when the alarm goes off to wake up. This change can make it difficult to get yourself motivated in the morning, and may even be hard to go to sleep at your normal hour.

Does One Hour Of Sleep Loss Really Make A Difference?

There are various opinions on this one hour change. After springing forward, you will have an extra hour of daylight in the late afternoon. Some say daylight savings time saves energy because in the summer and spring months, more individuals might be outdoors later in the evening, thereby not using artificial light (energy) at home.

Some enjoy long summer evenings filled with outdoor swimming, barbecues, and late sunsets. Others, however, say the energy savings from less artificial light is offset by more use of AC over the past several decades. They claim springing ahead has increased drawbacks such as:

  • Lost productivity
  • Sleep debt
  • Increased traffic accidents because of driving drowsy the first several days following the spring time change

Unfortunately, these traffic accidents may even include bus drivers and cars in the early dark morning hours.

Tips To Help You Adjust To DST

Below are some sleep tips to help with springing forward and sleeping better.

1. Transition into the time change gradually.To reduce the impact of switching to DST, make gradual adjustments. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than normal beginning a few days before the change. Ensure you’re well-rested the week before springing forward.

2. Allow for a sleep break following the time change. After the change to DST, if you feel sleepy, take a brief nap in the afternoon. Make sure it’s not too close to your bedtime. Don’t sleep in an hour longer in the morning. Allow your internal clock to adjust by itself, which should only take a few days.

3. Wear yourself (or your kids) out. On Sundays, take your kids outside the home, and avoid being indoors. Take them to the playground, and stay there until dark, or maybe have them jump on a trampoline in the backyard after dinner. For yourself, treat yourself to a movie or a trip to the museum – anything to avoid staying indoors. This helps you wear yourself (and your kids) out, so bedtime is earlier than normal.

4. Purchase blackout curtains. Bright light streaming into the bedroom in the evening can trick your body into thinking its too early to go to sleep. Blackout curtains will keep the sun from shining into the windows, so your bedroom will appear dark, even when it’s still light outdoors.

5. Create a routine with your sleep hours. Go to bed each night, and wake up each day at the same time. By doing this, you help your body regulate its pattern of sleep, so you’ll get the most out of your sleep hours. If you can, try waking up on the weekends at the same time, too. This can make Monday’s easier to wake up to. Be careful with naps, since they can affect sleep quality. If you must take naps, cut them down to 15 to 20 minutes long, so your body will feel revitalized, but it won’t affect your sleep that night.

6. Avoid stimulating substances. Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for four to six hours before bedtime if you’re having trouble sleeping. If you’re a smoker, you should also avoid tobacco, which is another stimulant, during the hours nearing bedtime.

7. Adjust your sleep schedule pre DST change. To help your body and brain make this shift more quickly, try sleeping in for an extra hour on Sunday morning following the time change, so you expose yourself in the early morning to sunlight.

If it’s hard to obtain natural sunlight in the morning where you live, consider using a simulator or lightbox to enhance physical and mental alertness. These tools trick your internal clock into thinking it’s sunny outdoors and it’s time to wake up. This will become less of a problem as the week progresses, and the days gain more hours of natural light.

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