For some of us, the clock change when Daylight Saving Time begins or ends is a minor inconvenience. For others, it triggers underlying health issues. Here’s information on how long it takes for your body to adjust to a time change as well as five quick tips to help you adjust smoothly.
The clocks change twice a year, “falling” back one hour in the fall and “springing” forward one hour in the spring. See when Daylight Saving Time starts and ends this year.
It may be an automatic switch for our cell phone, however, our body is not programmed by a man-made clock. In fact, these changes can throw off your body’s internal clock.
How Long Does It Take for Your Body to Adjust?
Our body’s own time-keeping machine regulates sleep and metabolism. So, a time shift disrupts our sleep and circadian rhythms.
It takes circadian and sleep rhythms a little “lag time” to transition. The time change can affect sleeping and waking patterns for five to seven days.
Does It Affect Our Health?
For most of us, the time change itself doesn’t affect our health. Some people are barely aware of their body’s adjustment and might simply feel a little tired and irritable.
But for other folks, it can be dangerous. Be aware that your experience is not the same as those who may have underlying health issues.
- Many of us are already sleep-deprived, so losing that hour is a tipping point. Studies show an overall increase in heart attacks in the days after both time changes.
- Also, a 2001 National Institutes of Health study showed fatal traffic accidents increase the Monday after both time changes.
Why does this happen? Think about traveling. When you travel to a different time zone, there is a natural shift in the sunrise/set time, too. But when we simply change a clock, the natural sunrise/set times do not change at all, so it’s simply disruptive for the brain and body. An hour may not seem like much, but it’s significant to our body clock, which is synchronized to the Sun time.
Other than abolishing the clock changes, what can we do?
Photo credit: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock
5 Tips to Adjust to Time Changes
Many of these tips are great for any time of the year, but pay special attention to days around the clock change.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time. Get at least seven hours of sleep on the day(s) before and after the transition. Lack of sleep tells the body to store fat. While it’s tempting to stay up later or change your habits, it’s best to keep your bed times consistent. The closer you stick to your normal routine, the faster your body will adjust to the time change.
- Practice good habits before bedtime. Slow your body down. Quit caffeinated beverages four to six hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol in the evening. If you are exercising, avoid workouts within four hours of bedtime because raising your body’s core temperature can make it harder to fall asleep. An hour before bedtime, put your phone, computer, or tablet away! Electronics’ high-intensity light hinders melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness. The light stimulates your brain and makes sleep difficult the same way sunlight does. Also, turn off the television and pick up a book. Take a warm–not hot–shower. Dim the lights. Relax.
- Keep your dinnertime consistent. Eat more protein, less carbs. On the days around the time change, eat at the same time or even eat a little early. Our sleep cycle and our eating patterns affect each other. Don’t overeat. Also, try to eat more protein instead of carbohydrates. (This might seem like good everyday advice, but it’s even more important during time changes.) Go shop for fish, nuts, and other sources of protein for dinner this week! Avoid the pasta.
- Get more light! Go outside and get exposure to morning sunlight on the Sunday after the time change to help regulate your internal clock. Having shorter daylight hours affects our mood and energy levels, decreasing serotonin. Make time to take a morning or early afternoon walk outside when the Sun is out. Try using a light therapy box or an alarm light that brightens as you wake up.
- Take a short cat nap. Some folks may disagree, but if you’re starting to stack up sleepless hours, it’s safer and healthier for your body to give in to a short nap than to continue without sleep. Make it a short nap (no more than 20 minutes) to restore lost sleep hours; however, do NOT take long naps. It may help to go outside into the natural sunlight to cue your body and help retrain your inner clock.
If you have a really tough time twice a year when the clocks change, may we suggest you start planning ahead? Gradually adjust sleep and wake times two to three days before the change by shifting bedtime 15 to 20 minutes each night. This helps your body make gradual shifts and more slowly adjust.
How do you adjust to time changes? We’d love to hear your thoughts.