It’s that time of year again! Time to “spring forward” for daylight savings. With busy families and tight work schedules, most of us groan at the thought of losing an hour of precious sleep. Even the slightest shift in our sleep routine is enough to throw us off course for weeks. The good news is that there are simple adjustments you can make to get your sleep schedule back on track, even throughout daylight savings season.
As of 2 a.m. on March 13, most of us entered a period known as “daylight saving time” (DST) in which everyone sets their clocks ahead by one hour, giving us longer days and shorter nights until November 6.
Most of the United States observes the time change, but those that do not are Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and several other small U.S territories.
Daylight Savings: What’s the Deal?
Daylight savings time first began in Canada in 1908 as a creative way to conserve energy and it has been observed on and off throughout various parts of the world ever since. Although most of the US has been steadily adhering to the concept since the 1970s, it is not without controversy.
According to a 2019 poll, more than 70% of Americans favor dropping daylight saving time citing scheduling confusion and sleep disruption as their biggest grievances.
Almost all states have introduced bills or resolutions concerning daylight saving time since 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with more than a dozen states passing legislation in favor of enacting year-round daylight saving time.
Nevertheless, without congressional action, states aren’t allowed to pass the change into law. While the 1966 Uniform Time Act permits states to remain on standard time all year if they choose, it does not allow for a switch to permanent daylight saving time.
Whether we like it or not, until these laws are passed most of us will have to learn to live with the abrupt time change twice a year. However, it’s important to stay on a regular sleep schedule for your mental and physical well-being.
How Does Daylight Savings Affect Sleep?
One hour of time adjustment may not seem like a significant change, but sleep experts have noted troubling trends during the bi-annual transitions between Standard Time and DST. Among these issues is an increase in heart problems, mood disorders, and motor vehicle collisions. Daylight savings time can also disrupt sleep if circadian rhythms are not in sync with natural cycles of light and darkness, causing insomnia and a slew of other sleep disorders.
A circadian rhythm is a natural internal process that regulates sleep, appetite, and mood in mammals. It is based on a 24-hour cycle in which light exposure is crucial. A healthy, high-quality sleep pattern depends on being synchronized with natural light-dark cycles each day.
Altering Your Circadian Rhythm
During the transition between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time, mornings are darker and evenings are brighter. This may alter your sleep-wake cycle, making you feel tired in the morning and awake in the evening. When there is circadian misalignment, it can cause problems with “sleep debt”—meaning that you regularly do not get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation is most prevalent in early March, as people transition from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time. According to one study, the average person gets 40 minutes less sleep on the Monday after “Spring Forward” than other nights of the year.
Both transition periods are associated with a temporary increase in mood disturbances, suicides, traffic accidents, and sleep loss. However, as more people drive home in daylight, experts suggest there is a reduction in accidents overall.
Symptoms of Sleep Debt and Sleep Deprivation
If you are one of the millions of people feeling the distruption of DST, what signs of sleep deprivation or sleep debt should you be aware of?
Symptoms of sleep deprivation in adults include:
- Yawning constantly
- Dozing off when not active for a while, such as while watching television
- Morning grogginess that doesn’t go away (sleep inertia)
- Mood changes (more irritable) and poor concentration
Keep in mind that kids can experience sleep deprivation too although their symptoms may look a little different than adults. Children tend to speed up rather than slow down when they are tired so watch for the following behavior changes:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Throwing temper tantrums
- Emotional ‘explosions’ at the slightest provocation
- Excessive activity and hyperactivity
- Napping during the day
- Difficulty rising in the morning
Daylight Savings: Get Your Sleep Back on Track
Whether your sleep schedule is a mess from the time change or just general poor sleeping habits, you can get your routine back on track with a few simple lifestyle changes.
- Stick to a strict schedule. – During the transition to daylight saving time, maintain consistency in your eating, sleeping, and exercising routines. Getting up early and exposing yourself to bright light will also help you adjust.
- Avoid taking long naps. – It can be tempting to shut your eyes in the middle of the day if you’re feeling sluggish. However, long naps during the day can interfere with your ability to rest at night. If you must nap, try to limit your sleep to only 20 minutes.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol. – Too much of these substances is never a good thing, especially during DST transitions. Most people know that caffeinated beverages should be avoided four to six hours before bedtime but drinking alcohol late at night can also prevent you from getting quality sleep.
Helping Your Children with Their Sleep Schedule
Are your kids having a hard time adjusting to the time changes? Everyone knows that when the little ones are overly tired- the whole family feels the effects. Here are some ways that we can help our kids get a better night’s sleep too. You can generally expect the transition to take about a week, but consistency is the key.
- Try adjusting their schedule by only 30 minutes to start. Allow their bodies to gradually adjust to the new routine rather than trying for the entire hour right away.
- Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise during the day so they feel more tired, but avoid stimulating activities right before bed.
- Stick to short, consistent bedtime routines. Long, drawn-out goodnights with three stories and five trips to the bathroom will only prolong their adjustment time.
- Avoid digital screens, such as television, phones, and tablets for at least one hour before bedtime. Instead opt for quiet, peaceful activities in dim lighting.
- Aim for consistency. While it may be tempting to let your child sleep in on weekends to “catch up on sleep”, this may actually prevent their circadian rhythms from adjusting, which will do more harm than good.
What About Melatonin?
If you or your child are struggling with sleep, you might consider melatonin to help get your schedule back on track.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is available in the form of a dietary supplement. It can help to regulate your circadian rhythms which will allow you to fall asleep faster and get your sleep cycle back on track, especially when you are experiencing jet lag or traveling across time zones.
Melatonin is a great, safe way to help adults and children adjust to time changes but it’s only temporary. There just isn’t enough information available yet about the health effects of long-term melatonin use.