Tips for Adjusting to the end of Daylight Savings Time

The best way to adapt to the time change

On November 4th, an hour will be added to our day when we move our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. While you would think ‘gaining’ an extra hour might help us catch up on our sleep--for most, it can be frustrating to adjust. To help you get a jump on the transition, we visited with local sleep doctor, Maniza Ehtesham, MD, the medical director of ExcellHealth Sleep Center to learn the best way to reset our internal clock and adapt more quickly to the time change.

Q: What can we do to help ease the transition?

A: You should start preparing for the time change a few days in advance to reset your body’s sleep and wake clock.

We recommend you start by going to bed 15 minutes later each day and waking up about 15 minutes earlier. We have found that gradually adjusting your sleep schedule works the best. This is essentially the same principle used in adjusting to jetlag.

After the time change has happened, if you are still having difficulty, you can try using low dose Melatonin taken an hour before your desired bedtime. This will aid in the transition of your sleep and wake cycle. You can do this for 3 to 5 days, if needed.

Q: Does light exposure help?

A: Yes. Absolutely. Sunlight is an important element to resetting our circadian rhythm which is internally generated, but influenced by the environment, behavior and medications. I suggest exposing yourself to sunlight as soon as you wake. Stand in front of a window or door or go outside. This will activate feedback mechanisms in your brain that tell it to “wake up.”

If there is no sunshine, the second option is to expose yourself to bright lights. This will have a similar effect. A light box or desk lamp can also reset your circadian rhythms. Bright light therapy is also helpful in minimizing seasonal affective disorder.

Q: What are some common mistakes?

A: people try to stay up too late – thinking they are getting an extra hour to sleep the next day. We recommend against this, just adjust by 15 minutes and start a few days ahead.

Q: Other general sleep tips  

A: These tips should be followed during Daylight Savings Time as well as on a regular basis.  Avoid alcohol close to bedtime or consuming caffeine in the afternoon or later. If you feel yourself getting tired midday, try taking a brief 15-20 minute nap. However, lengthy or late naps can throw your sleep timing off. We recommend that you avoid longer naps. Keep your dinner about 3 hours away from bedtime and exercise 3 hours away from bedtime as well.

Q: What happens if I do nothing to adjust to the time change

A: For most people the fall time change is easier to adjust to than the spring time change. We are a sleep deprived society and gaining an hour is easier than losing one, so if you do nothing, you may just fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier for several days and your body rhythm will usually adjust in 5-6 days. If you work a day shift it is less likely to impact you, but if you have other shift work it will likely affect you more. Keep a lighter schedule if you are able to the day of time change.

Maniza Ehtesham, MD, FACP is a board-certified physician and the Medical Director of Excellhealth Sleep Center in Overland Park, Kan. She is also Associate Professor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.