Do you look forward to daylight savings time every year, or do you dread it? Whether you love it or hate it though, daylight savings time can really throw off your routine and make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Whether you gain an hour or lose one, you can adjust your schedule to daylight savings time so that you can stay on your normal schedule without the sluggishness that typically comes with the time change.
You may be wondering though— why do we observe daylight savings time in the first place? Do we actually “save” time? Why does it make us so tired? Let’s take a look.
What is Daylight Savings Time?
Daylight savings time (DST) has an interesting history. It was first used in Thunder Bay, Canada in 1908 to save energy and make as much use of daytime as possible. It wasn’t invented in Canada though— it was originally invented in New Zealand in 1895. Even before that, it was proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784— albeit as a joke.
In one of his satirical essays called An Economical Project, Franklin suggested the citizens of Paris might be able to save money on candles and lamp oil if they just go to bed when it got dark, and wake up with the sun.
Although the idea was introduced much earlier, daylight saving time was actually implemented in the U.S. in 1918 as part of the effort to save coal during World War I. It was not invented to help farmers get the most from daylight— as is common belief. On the contrary, farmers were already working from dawn until dusk and actually strongly opposed daylight saving time. After the war ended, it was repealed.
During World War II, daylight saving time was reinstituted again, and repealed once more when the war ended. By that point, however, the practice had become common throughout the country.
Although common, the usage wasn’t uniform, resulting in over 100 conflicting locally established time zones in the United States. In 1966, the U.S. Congress passed The Uniform Time Act of 1966 and made daylight saving time uniform across all areas that observed it.
The United States is only one of about 70 countries to observe daylight savings time— however, not all of America does. Parts of Arizona and all of Hawaii do not observe daylight savings time. As you likely know well, DST in the US starts at 2:00 AM local time on the second Sunday in March, and ends on the first Sunday of November, when we return to standard time.
When we “spring forward,” we enter daylight saving time as we gain an hour. And when we “fall back,” we lose an hour and return to standard time. But does daylight saving time actually affect time?
Do We Actually Gain or Lose Time?
In short, no. While many of you may enjoy the return to standard time— where you “gain” an hour— in reality, daylight saving time has no effect on time itself.
The current time in any place across the world is a result of the earth’s position in relation to the sun. This is what creates the many different time zones across the planet also. No matter what time zone you’re in, standard time is the local time of any region based on its location.
However, while we don’t actually gain or lose actual time, that doesn’t mean that DST has zero effect on people. That hour of change in the fall and spring can not only throw your sleep schedule and daily schedule off balance, but it can contribute to some actual health problems as well. Some of these problems can include:
- Increased cardiovascular risk
- Circadian rhythm misalignment
Why the Time Change Makes Us Tired
In An Economical Project, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity.”
If you’ve ever struggled with the time change, then you may be inclined to agree with Franklin!
A one-hour shift may not seem like it could significantly disrupt your sleep, but there’s a reason so many of us feel sluggish and out of sorts after the time change. This is because the shift can be jarring to your circadian rhythm, causing it to become misaligned.
Your circadian rhythm is responsible for maintaining and regulating your sleep cycle, and it’s influenced primarily by sunlight. When the sun rises, it influences you to be awake, while you prepare for sleep as the sun sets. However, the clash between the time change and the changed light outside can throw off your circadian rhythm, causing that familiar feeling of grogginess and imbalance in the days following the time change.
But thankfully, this can be prevented.
Related: Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
How to Prepare for Daylight Savings Time
It takes several days to re-adjust with the time change. However, making some minor changes to your routine before the time change can be the difference between being prepared for the shift or that familiar disorientation afterward.
Here are some easy steps you can take to prepare yourself for daylight saving time, whether you’re gaining an hour or losing one.
How to Adjust for Longer Days (Spring Forward)
Many people hate the beginning of DST because they lose a full hour of sleep. Here are our tips to help you spring forward with ease.
1. Go to Bed Earlier and Adjust Gradually
Luckily, daylight saving time is scheduled well in advance, so you have plenty of time to prepare for it. To do this, start adjusting your bedtime in small increments a week or two before the time change.
For example, if you go to bed at 11:00, and you’re going to fall back an hour, start going to bed earlier, little by little, each night. Maybe go to bed at 10:50 the first night, 10:40 the next, and so on. By doing this, you’ll be ready to go to bed at the “new” 11:00 when daylight saving time starts.
Consistency is key here also. The more consistent your sleep schedule is, the easier it will be to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day!
2. Get Your Children Adjusted Early
This goes hand in hand with getting your own sleep schedule adjusted. You can take proper steps for yourself, but if you have children— especially young children— your sleep schedule is often ruled by theirs. So, adjusting your child’s sleep schedule ahead of time is even more crucial than your own.
Mornings are not the only part of their sleep schedule that will be disrupted. A child’s nap time and evening routine will be affected as well. To prevent this, you’ll want to incrementally adjust their schedule in the days leading up to the time change.
You can do this the same way you adjust your own schedule. Move your child’s bedtime, naps, and morning wake-up schedule forward by 10-15 minutes every day or two. As you incrementally push the time forward, when DST hits they’ll already be waking up closer to the new time.
3. Be Fully Rested
You shouldn’t sleep in if you want a smooth adjustment to the time change. To better adjust to daylight saving time, it’s important to wake up at the same time Sunday morning that you need to be awake on Monday morning.
It’s common to feel more sluggish throughout the day on Sunday. However, the more well-rested you are, the better your body can handle a shift in your sleeping schedule. This means getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night— especially as daylight saving time approaches.
4. Avoid Taking a Nap
Remember— it’s common to feel more tired and run down on Sunday following the time change. You may be tempted to take a nap, but it’s not a good idea. Taking a nap could throw off your sleep schedule even further, preventing you from feeling rested on Monday morning.
However, if you’re not well-rested and feel a nap is necessary, make sure it’s a short nap early in the day. Taking it too close to bedtime will make it harder for you to fall asleep on time. Try to stick to a 20 to 30-minute nap— anything longer and it’s too disruptive to your sleep cycles.
How to Adjust to for Darker Days (Fall Back)
Fall is especially difficult as you get older because it’s harder to change your circadian clock in your 40’s and 50’s. The shorter and darker days of winter also often lead to early evening sleepiness, and many find themselves going to sleep earlier and waking in the middle of the night.
Seasonal disorders are also more common. With less daytime light in the evenings, our bodies produce less serotonin which is a mood-regulating chemical, which also happens to affect alertness.
But don’t worry, these can be avoided as well. Here are our suggestions to help you adjust your sleep schedule following the return of standard time in the Fall.
1. Eat a Lighter Dinnertime Meal Earlier in the Evening
Eating a heavy meal— such as high carbohydrate meals like pasta— late in the evening can make you likely to fall asleep too early. Your body may even prioritize digesting your meal over helping you fall asleep while you’re laying in bed.
Your body needs time to reset your biological clocks after the time change— which can potentially take several weeks. Eating an earlier dinner with more salads, vegetables, and protein can prevent the excessive sleepiness that results from a heavy meal. The easier it is to keep a consistent bedtime, not too early, the sooner our internal clocks can adjust.
2. Rethink Your Evening Activities
If your evening routine is more sedentary, it can make you more likely to go to bed too early following the time change. Keeping yourself busy with physical activities can help you fall asleep at the right time. Vigorous exercise too close to bedtime can also keep you awake though. Here are a few ways you can make your evenings more active, and more productive to a good night’s sleep:
- Take a walk— ideally in a well-lit area such as a gym or a mall
- Go grocery shopping
- Safely attend a social event, invite people over for lively conversation, or chat with family members
- Start a project that requires intense focus to keep you engaged
In all instances, make sure the area is well-lit. A brightly lit area is key in the first few weeks to ensure your body more easily shifts with the time change.
However, it’s important to avoid exposure to artificial blue light as you get closer to bedtime. Blue light is a vital part of maintaining your circadian rhythm, but getting too much at night can prevent you from falling asleep on time. This is because blue light exposure reduces the production of melatonin— your sleep hormone. At night though, you want more melatonin production so you can get a good night’s sleep. To avoid this, avoid using your electronic devices at least 60 minutes before your regular bedtime.
3. Use Light to Help You Make a Smooth Transition
On the other hand, getting exposure to as much sunlight as possible in the mornings will help you minimize the effects of the DST shift and get back into sync faster. This can be as easy as standing in front of a window or stepping outside and soaking up some sun if the weather’s fine.
If your schedule or location prevents you from getting enough morning sun to reduce your melatonin production, you can use bright light therapy instead. Essentially, this entails exposing your skin to a special light that promotes wakefulness. Bright light therapy is also an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Here are some ways you can try bright light therapy at home:
- Invest in an alarm that brightens when you wake up
- Use a light therapy box, like those from Journi
- Use special lightbulbs like those from Biological Lighting
You don’t need to be directly exposed to the light for it to be effective though. You can reap the benefits of bright light therapy while you follow your normal morning routine.
When To See a Sleep Specialist
While many places choose not to follow daylight savings time, most of us will probably still need to adjust to it for years to come. Remember— you can easily adjust to any time change if you follow a few easy steps beforehand. However, if you have difficulty adjusting to the change or feel fatigued for more than 10 days afterward, it’s important to discuss your situation with a sleep specialist. They can help you assess your symptoms and figure out the cause of your sleep disruption.
Other signs you need a sleep test include:
- Loud or persistent snoring
- Mental health disorders, including depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue or excessive daytime sleepiness
Contact us today at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee to get back to the healthy sleep you need to feel refreshed— no matter what time of year it is.
“DST in the United States.” Timeanddate.com, www.timeanddate.com/time/us/daylight-saving-usa.html.
“15 U.S. Code § 260A — Advancement of Time or Changeover Dates.” Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/260a.