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Sleep and the Switch to Daylight Savings Time

We all look forward to the extra hour of daylight in the evening that comes with the start of daylight savings. After a winter of every day ending early, that sudden extra hour in the evening feels like a pleasing shock to the system. The quiet moment you can take for yourself after a long day of work while the sun is still in the sky feels like a small universe of peace.

But this Sunday at 2 am, the clocks “spring forward” and it is not a gentle course. We effectively lose an hour of sleep that we can little afford in these times. The first few days of barely managing to wake up on time, and dragging yourself out of bed when it’s still dark feels almost unnatural.

It can be difficult for our bodies to adjust to a shorter than 24 hour day, sometimes taking up to a full week for us to make physical peace with the change. This is because our body clock is actually longer than 24 hours. We know this because of research studies in the ‘60s and ‘70s. People volunteered to be isolated in dark caves with no light input to their circadian clocks. The volunteers’ temperature and activity rhythms got later and later each day, on the order of about 24.5 hours. The lack of light exposure allowed these people’s circadian clocks to “free-run.” Our true nature runs on something longer than the full day!

So, when a clock that wants 24.5 hours and has been forced to expect 24 hours suddenly has to adjust to 23 hours and a time change, it can be a struggle! On the other hand, when we switch back to standard time, it is much easier because our clocks technically only have to adjust 30 minutes longer…more on this in November!

The question remains: how can you help your body adjust to losing an hour of sleep?

The first thing you can do is to get some bright light in the morning. Regular indoor light helps our body clock stay on a 24 hour day, but bright outdoor light is a very strong “zeitgeber” or time-giver to the circadian clock to push the clock earlier. Just a couple of days of a morning walk in the bright sunshine will make it easier to go to sleep at the “earlier” time and easier to wake up in the morning.

The second thing you can do, is make the time shift gradual. If you have the time and inclination, move your wake time 10 minutes earlier each day in the week leading up to the daylight savings time shift. You may be a bit earlier than your buddies that week, but you’ll be the winner in the long run with how you’ll skip the time-change jet lag.

Finally, take a power nap! If you find you are dragging due to the loss of allotted sleep time, take a 20-30 minute nap right after lunch. This nap will help refresh you for the rest of your day without taking away from your nighttime sleep the next night.

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