Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Believe it or not, spring is right around the corner, which means that the shift to Daylight Savings Time (DST) is nearly upon us! And while we look forward to the longer days that springtime brings, we also know it likely means one less hour of sleep as the clocks move forward. Knowing how vital sleep is to our health, how do we spring forward without wrecking our rhythm?
While we are all subject to the ebb and flow of the 24-hour circadian rhythm, each of our bodies follows its own biological clock. In general, most of us are either morning people or night owls - these are known as chronotypes, or the hours you find yourself naturally most wakeful/productive. Paying attention to when you naturally wake and fall asleep can help you determine the best way to approach a time change without fully disrupting your daily cycle.
1. Follow a consistent sleep schedule. If possible, follow a schedule that accommodates your chronotype. If work, school, or life don’t allow for that, do your best to still follow a regular sleep schedule from one day to the next, including on weekends. Without being too strict, go to sleep and wake up at generally the same time each day.
2. Soak up that early morning light. Exposing your body to natural early morning light helps reset and support your internal clock, shutting down melatonin production for your wakeful hours. Just 20 minutes of light exposure can totally change your day. The Vitamin D exposure is a huge win, too! If getting outside isn’t an option, you can sip your morning coffee by a sunlit window or try a specialty light bulb that mimics that natural morning light.
3. Eliminate blue light at night. Just as morning light helps signal our bodies to wake up, we need cues to help our system calm down and start producing that magical, sleep-inducing melatonin. The best way to do this is to stop use of all electronic screens 60-90 minutes before bedtime. If this isn’t practical, blue light-blocking glasses with amber lenses can help reduce your exposure. To learn more about how to optimize your nighttime screen habits for sleep, click here. This is a great opportunity to examine your bedtime routine and find ways to make it more relaxing and sleep-inducing.
4. Get moving in the morning. If your schedule allows, shift your workout to the morning while you adjust to the change. It’ll help you wake up, and make it easier for you to fall asleep come nighttime. If possible, move that workout outside to take advantage of that morning light. Even a simple morning walk can jumpstart your day. You can also jumpstart your internal clock by having a cool (not cold, we’re not monsters!) shower - just spend the last minute of your shower gradually turning the temperature to where it’s uncomfortable but tolerably cool. Or start and end that way. It’s sure to wake you up and it’s great for vagus nerve stimulation (read more about that here)!
5. Supercharge your breakfast. Who doesn’t love a good bagel, muffin, or pastry in the morning? Unfortunately, without some healthy fat and protein, you’re dooming yourself to the 9AM slump with a carb-loaded breakfast. Instead, opt for a lighter, protein- and healthy fat-filled option like a veggie scramble, protein oatmeal, or a green smoothie with added protein. The nutrients will keep you full longer without using so much energy to digest that you soon feel ready for a nap. And if you’re a coffee drinker, try waiting to have it until 90 minutes after you wake up - this is when your cortisol levels generally drop, and you’ll be ready for that boost of energy.
6. Plan for your day. It’s normal to feel your energy dip a little more after any time change, particularly in the 1PM - 3PM window. Do your best to resist an afternoon nap or coffee (and therefore a later bedtime) by taking a walk, listening to upbeat music while you work, or drinking plenty of water and having a nutritious snack before you get too sleepy. If you anticipate struggling for a few days with the time change, try to avoid overloading your schedule that Sunday and Monday to account for that extra daytime sleepiness.
Now, how do we deal specifically with the loss of that hour of sleep?
Our night owls will likely struggle the most with this change. The best recommendation to preserve your sleep quality is to slowly shift your schedule an hour earlier over the course of the week leading up to the change - eating dinner 15 minutes earlier and going to bed 15 minutes earlier than normal on Monday, waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal on Tuesday - and so on, until you’ve shifted one hour earlier for the weekend change. Then proceed as normal come Sunday morning!
If you’re a morning person, you won’t likely need to make any major changes. If possible, let your body wake up at its natural time (so if you usually wake at 6AM, you’ll wake closer to 7AM by the new clock schedule). Plan to consolidate your morning routine if needed, and get moving for the day as you normally would. You can also follow the above recommendations if you want to make waking up on Sunday that much easier!
As you navigate the shift to Daylight Savings Time, remember that any ill effects will be temporary. By planning ahead, you’re doing what you can to ensure a smooth transition, and you’re once again taking an opportunity to focus on your health. Go you!