In case the world hasn’t thrown you enough curveballs of late (say, in the form of intensifying political tensions, or the escalating coronavirus crisis), here’s another: the time is changing. On Sunday, we’ll lose an hour as we “spring forward” for daylight saving time (DST).
An hour lost may not seem like much, but it’s just enough change to be potentially disruptive and possibly even pose health risks. Studies have found that fatal accidents are slightly more likely to occur on the Monday after DST goes into effect, as is the chance of heart attack and that of ischemic stroke.
The most common problem associated with DST though, is fatigue and just feeling off. This, as Beth Malow, MD, professor and director of Sleep Disorders Division at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, explains, comes down to the fact that “our circadian clock gets dysregulated. Some people are more sensitive than others based on genetics, age (younger people usually adapt better), morning versus evening types — similar to how different people [deal differently] with jet lag.”
We’ve compiled a list of expert tips for how to prepare for DST so that you barely notice the change — and more importantly, aren’t falling asleep at your desk on Monday.
Leading up to DST, adjust your bedtime and wake up time
The main trick to readying for DST is to start moving the clock ahead before it shifts a full hour on Sunday. You can achieve this by going to bed earlier and earlier each night and waking up earlier, too.
“Try to reset your clock by going to bed and waking up 15-20 minutes earlier starting a few days before the time change, then an additional 15-20 minutes earlier (total of 30-40 minutes earlier from when you usually go to bed/wake up) the day before the time change,” says Malow. “This will help your body transition more smoothly rather than abruptly.”
Loading up on caffeine can wake us up like nothing else, but this quick fix can come at a cost. The more coffee (or other caffeinated substances, like soda) you drink during the day, the more you risk disrupting your sleep patterns.
“Caffeine can be helpful with the sleepiness we feel, but stay away from any caffeine at least four hours before bedtime to avoid having problems falling asleep,” says Dr. Andrew Stiehm, MD, who specializes in pulmonary and sleep medicine at Allina Health's United Sleep and Lung Center.
Avoid the nightcap and nix heavy dinners
Alcohol can make us drowsy, which is why it might seem like a great idea to have a nightcap before bedtime — but a late-night drink can only potentially worsen trouble sleeping.
“While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it also prevents you from getting quality sleep,” says Dr. Stiehm, who recommends abstaining from booze in the later hours, as well as avoiding hefty meals or snacks close to bedtime.
“Consider a smaller snack such as bananas, almonds or oatmeal,” says Stiehm.
Sunlight and exercise should help you acclimate
Now that we’re getting more sunlight in the evenings, try and experience it as much as you can now, and when DST kicks in. This will help your body acclimate to the time change.
"When exposed to sunlight, the eye sends messages to the brain where nerve cells produce in response, melatonin, which practically sends a message to the brain’s networks to 'wake up,'” says Hermona Soreq, neuroscientist and professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Safra Center for Brain Sciences.
Dr. Samant Virk, MD, a neurologist and founder of the telemedicine company, MediSprout, recommends getting outside and exposing yourself to as much light as possible during daylight hours, “as this helps your body suppress melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical in your body, [and] delay your sleep cycle until the appropriate bedtime.”
If it’s too chilly to spend much time outdoors, spend some time with a light box, instead.
“Using a light box can also help with this,” says Dr. Pradeep C. Bollu, MD, a neurologist, director of Sleep Disorders Center and professor at University of Missouri. “Routine daily exercise in the morning is always helpful as it improves alertness.”
Don’t sleep in on Sunday, but take a 20-minute nap if you’re tired
Regardless of how well you’ve prepped ahead of DST, you may still find yourself pretty sleepy on Sunday.
It’s best to rise as early as possible on Sunday, and then look forward to a short nap in the afternoon.
“Resist the urge to sleep in on Sunday and avoid sleeping an hour longer in the morning,” says Dr. Bollu. “If you have daytime sleepiness, a short nap (about 20 minutes long) is fine. Make sure the nap is no longer than that and not in the evening times.”
Pro-tips for helping kids adjust to daylight saving time
It’s one thing to prepare yourself for DST — it’s quite another to see that your kids adjust.
Bobbi Jo Hopkins, MD, director of the Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shares the following tips for kids and teens:
- "Since the kids/teens may have difficulty going to sleep earlier and waking earlier, simplify the morning routine by organizing everything they need for school the night before. Place shoes by the door, lay out clothes/breakfast, pack the backpack, etc.”
- “Even if the kids ‘lose’ an hour of sleep, try to [have them] avoid napping during the day to make going to sleep the next night easier.”
Sleep expert Azizi Seixas also recommends the Moshi Twilight app for kids. Seizas has no affiliation with the app, but as a parent, has found that it's “helpful in getting kids to sleep and stay asleep so parents can also get their much needed rest.”
A note for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s
If you’re the caretaker of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it’s important to help them safely adjust to the time change.
"Because people with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias often are happiest with a regular daily routine, and because they sometimes experience irregular sleep patterns, the change to DST may be especially challenging,” says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association. “It is common for people living with these diseases to experience increased confusion and agitation beginning at dusk and continuing throughout the night; we commonly call this ‘sundowning.’"
The Alzheimer's Association recommends caregivers of persons who experience sundowning help the individual get plenty of rest, reduce stimulation during the evening hours and keep the home well-lit in the evening and early morning.
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