March 8th marks the start of Daylight Savings Time (DST). In the early Sunday morning hours, most of the United States will move their clocks forward one hour and begin to deal with the loss of one full hour of sleep. While many people appreciate the fact that this “spring forward” time change brings us more hours of daylight, the transition period of losing that hour of slumber can be very challenging to our internal clock. There are actually some serious health risks associated with this abrupt change to our sleep schedule. Research shows that fatal car accidents increase by 6% in the week following the spring time change. This is mostly attributed to increased sleep deprivation due to the forfeiture of an hour and disruption in sleep pattern. During the workweek, it will also be dark versus light on the morning drive, creating more opportunities for car accidents during this period of adjustment. Regarding our physical well-being, research indicates there is an increased risk of stroke and heart attack in the first few days following the time change. The impact of DST is so significant that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine actually put out a health advisory specifically related to this event.
With some preparation and mindfulness regarding your activities for the next few weeks, this time change can feel less disruptive to your system. "Spring forward” a little easier by following these tips:
1) START ADJUSTING YOUR SLEEP TIMES EARLY.
With the start of DST, you will actually be going to bed and waking up one hour earlier than you did before. The clock next to the bed or the watch on your wrist will say it's your usual bedtime or wake time, but your internal clock will tell you something different. Your body will need some time to re-program. To prepare for this, start making adjustments in the week prior to the change. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier every few days in the week before DST begins. Here is a sample schedule to follow if your usual bedtime is 11:00pm:
2/29 bedtime 10:45pm
3/02 bedtime 10:30pm
3/04 bedtime 10:15pm
3/06 bedtime 10:00pm
Each day you go to bed 15 minutes earlier, also set your alarm to wake up 15 minutes earlier. By the time DST starts, it will be a bit easier to acclimate since your body had a head start with managing the earlier hour in small increments.
2) KEEP A SOLID BEDTIME ROUTINE.
Our bodies love and crave routine and sleep is very hard to regulate for many people. The last thing we need is a catalyst like losing an hour of sleep to cause more disturbance. Be diligent about keeping a regular bedtime throughout the week and weekend. If you typically stay up later on weekends, make the extra effort the weekend before the time change and the weekend of DST to go to bed at your regular weekday time so that your body has less adjustments to make.
3) AVOID EXCESS CAFFEINE TO COMPENSATE.
If you are struggling during the first week or two of this time change, you may be tempted to add some extra caffeine into the mix to get through the day. Your body is already challenged by this adjustment. Try to avoid other changes in your daily routine, which includes excess caffeine that may stimulate you and cause even more sleep difficulty.
4) START YOUR DAY WITH SOME EXTRA SUNSHINE.
Early mornings will be darker and your circadian rhythm may be thrown off when natural wake- up cues, such as sunlight, are delayed. Be more intentional in your efforts to go outside in the morning when the sun comes out. Take some time to soak in a little sunshine and fresh air, which will help signal your body and brain to wake up! Use your lunch hour to go for a walk. The exercise and sunshine can boost your mood, which is easily thrown off by insufficient rest.
5) GIVE YOUR BODY HEALTHY FUEL.
With internal schedules already changed by shifts in sleep and daylight hours, it's really easy for everything to get thrown off. Meal times may also be confusing because our body clocks are on the old feeding schedule. Take time to prepare snacks to nourish and sustain you between meals. This is good practice in general, but particularly helpful following the time change. Avoid the temptation to self-medicate with substances to help you sleep. This may be counterproductive and actually cause sleep problems!
Be extra kind to your body for the next few weeks. Practice good self-care heading into the DST weekend and for the days that follow the new adjustment to the clock. Your body is resilient and will re-program itself just like it did in the Fall when DST ended. Following these tips can give you some extra support!
Anissa Bell, LMFT
Clarity Therapy Associates