Tomorrow we “Fall back” one hour for Daylight Saving Time, but how does this affect our sleep cycle? Theoretically, we gain an hour of sleep, but some people struggle to adjust their internal clock to the new daylight pattern. We asked Karl Doghramji, MD, Medical Director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center, about the most important information about the time change and his advice for adjusting, here’s what he told us:
“On Saturday night (Sunday morning), Daylight Saving Time ends and we revert back to Standard Time. You may recall that in March, we set our clocks forward and lost an hour of sleep. Although we forced our bodies to get out of bed an hour earlier, we gained more time exposed to sunlight later in the day.
So this Sunday morning at 2 am, the clocks suddenly turn back to 1 am. Ideally, this adds 1 hour to the time we spend in bed Saturday night, and by adding 1 hour to our 24 hour day, we’re essentially living a 25 hour day on Sunday. This extra hour could be an opportunity to catch up on lost sleep, however, a minority of us actually get more sleep on Saturday night! Many people end up staying up later or will have difficulty adjusting to the new rhythm.
During the ensuing week, many of us wake up earlier than desired, have trouble falling asleep, are more likely to wake up during the night, and feel more sleepy or fatigued during the day. But why is this? The more pronounced effect of the change is that our eyes will see the darkness an hour earlier on Sunday evening and for the next 4 months (until March). This forces our body rhythms to adjust to a 1-hour delay with respect to the prior 8 months—it’s essentially like traveling westward. Usually, those who are most affected are early risers, short sleepers (who get under 7.5 hours per night and whose body clocks are shorter than 24 hours), and those who work a 9- 5. They will wake up earlier in the morning on Sunday, Monday, and the following days, and essentially get less sleep as the week progresses.
My advice is to improve or maintain good sleep hygiene—eliminate as many contributors to sleep disruption to allow your body to adjust more rapidly. Take steps to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, avoid alcohol, and do something relaxing prior to bedtime. You can also enhance your circadian signaling: eliminate sources of bright light (TV, smartphones, and laptops) in the evening, consider blue light filter glasses for 2 hours prior to bedtime, avoid bright light in the morning, and stick to a regular bedtime. You can also take a brief nap in the afternoon to make up for lost sleep during the week following the time change.”
For most people, this change is less problematic than the “Spring forward” change, but it usually takes a day or two, or as long as a week, to adjust. Use Dr. Doghramji’s recommendations and tips so you can “Fall back” with ease!