How Does Daylight Saving Time Affect Sleep?

The joyful march towards spring inevitably includes one slight stumbling block: the annual shift to daylight saving time. On the second Sunday of March, the majority of Americans spring forward by losing one hour overnight. DST ends in November when we fall back by gaining an extra hour on the first Sunday in November.

This seasonal time change is designed to increase the amount of daylight available after the traditional workday is over, but it also can leave people groggy and tired for days afterward. That’s because your body’s own internal biological clock, called your circadian rhythm, can’t easily adjust to a new sleep schedule. Light is the most important signal for setting our body’s circadian rhythm, and abrupt changes to light, like what happens during the annual DST change, can disrupt our natural sleep cycles.

The Negative Effects of Daylight Savings Time

DST negatively affects our sleep because it abruptly changes our normal sleep schedules. It’s almost like giving yourself jetlag without going on a trip. Light is the most important signal our body receives for setting our sleep patterns. When light hits your eyes, a signal is sent to our brains that says it’s time to be awake.

Darkness tells your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that causes drowsiness and tells your body to sleep. But a sudden one-hour shift in the day will negatively affect our sleep quality, according to Dr. Muhammad A. Rishi, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and the vice chair of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Public Safety Committee.

“The transition to daylight saving time, especially the spring switch in March, can have a negative impact on sleep duration and quality,” Rishi says. “Folks who are already short on sleep may experience the most adverse effects of the time change.”

Studies show that DST leads to a decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep and has daytime side effects like reduced cognition.

[Read: Sleep Reset: Getting Your Sleep Back to Normal.]

Tips for Better Sleep During Time Changes

The change in your sleep schedule can be difficult, especially for people who already struggle to get some shut-eye. According to a survey, more than half of adults report feeling tired for the week after daylight saving time begins.

Fortunately, we have some simple tips to help you prepare for the change:

Slightly alter your bedtime:

Shifting when you go to sleep in the days before the time change will help prepare your body for DST and limit the time change’s negative effects. The ASSM recommends shifting your bedtime by 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night for the two to three days preceding the spring DST shift.

Get outside early in the morning:

It’s a good idea to wake up early and go outside when the time changes so that you expose your eyes and body to natural light.

Rishi explains this will help your body adjust to the new time. “The bright light in the morning can reset your internal clock, improving sleep and alertness,” he says. Before the actual change, slowly start to adjust the timing of your daily routines. Your routines act like ‘time cues’ for your body’s circadian rhythm. “For example, start eating dinner a little earlier each night or exercising earlier.”

Avoid caffeine late in the day:

Caffeine keeps you awake by blocking certain receptors in your brain that make you feel tired. This stimulating effect can be felt for a significant amount of time after you consume caffeine, so the closer to bedtime, the more trouble you’ll likely have getting to sleep.

Caffeine consumption can also lead to reduced sleep quality, so it’s best to avoid coffee or tea late in the day if you’re having sleep problems as a result of daylight saving.

[SEE: Sleep Apnea: 11 Things That Make It Worse.]

Try to get 7 hours of sleep:

For adults, studies indicate that sleeping less than seven hours a day is associated with a long list of negative outcomes, including increased risk of stroke as well as an increased risk of accidents and impaired performance. Avoid the negative effects of short sleep by getting at least seven hours before and after the time changes.

Remember to set your clocks correctly:

Many devices like your computer and smartphone will automatically update their clocks but don’t forget to manually set other clocks, like those on your stove or microwave, to prevent confusion.

[Read: What to Do When You Can’t Sleep]

What Is Daylight Saving Time?

Daylight saving time is a seasonal shift in time zones that occurs when we move our clocks one hour forward in the spring and one hour backward in the fall. The change is aimed at providing people with more hours of sunlight following their workday. The majority of the states in the U.S. observe the time shift — only Hawaii and Arizona keep their clocks the same all year long. Daylight saving time was officially standardized across the U.S. in 1966 when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act.

These two time shifts regularly cause problems for people’s sleeping schedules because of the sudden change in time. The sleep disruptions are felt particularly hard during the spring shift forward and there is evidence that accidents increase directly following the time shifts. A study published in 2020 examining accidents at a healthcare facility found that work accidents caused by human error increased more than 18% following the spring time change and slightly less than 5% following the fall time change, so there’s reason to be extra cautious after we change our clocks.

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