Time changes in the fall and spring affect each of us differently. For many folks, it can take circadian and sleep rhythms a week or so to transition. Here are five quick tips to help the body adjust to the time change.
When the clocks switch early Sunday, it may be an automatic switch for our iPhone, however, our bodies do not adapt as quickly. After all, clocks and calendars are made-made and Nature pays no heed.
Our bodies have a time-keeping machine that regulates sleep and metabolism. So, a time shift disrupts our sleep and circadian rhythms.
Some of us are merely sleepy and irritable. The time change can affect sleeping and waking patterns for five to seven days. But for others, it’s bad for their health. Studies show that the days after the time change have increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 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 Daylight Saving Time, what can we do?
Photo credit: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock
5 Tips to Adjust to Time Changes
- Go to bed and get up at the same time. Get at least seven hours of sleep before and after the transition. Lack of sleep tells the body to store fat. It may be tempting to stay up later or change your habits, but it’s best to keep your sleep schedule consistent. The closer you stick to your normal routine, the faster your body will adjust to the time change. On the morning after the time change, we would recommend getting up at the same time. So, if you usually get up at 8 A.M., do the same even if the clock says 9 A.M. It’s benefitcial for most people to gain that hour of sleep.
Practice good habits before bedtime. Limit caffeine in the afternoon. Exercise earlier in the day, if possible. Raising your body’s core temperature can make it harder to fall asleep, so avoid heavy workouts within four hours of bedtime. Put your phone, computer, or tablet away an hour before bedtime. Electronics’ high-intensity light hinders melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness. It stimulates your brain and makes sleep difficult the same way sunlight does. Turn off the television and pick up a non-suspenseful book. Take a warm – not hot – shower. Dim the lights. Rlax.
- Keep your dinnertime consistent. Or, even eat a little early. Our sleep cycle and our eating patterns affect each other. Don’t overeat. 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 Sunday to help regulate your internal clock. 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 that brightens as you wake up.
- Take a short 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 nap than to continue without sleep. Make it a short nap to restore lost sleep hours; however, do NOT take a long daytime nap. 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 earlier 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.