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Spring forward: Tips for adjusting to time change this Sunday

Teresa Tanoos's picture
This Sunday at 2 a.m. is when most Americans set their clocks one hour ahead of time.

After a particularly harsh winter, the time change this weekend may be a welcome switch that signals spring is in the air, but it can also wreak havoc with your sleep schedule.

At 2 a.m. this Sunday, March 9, 2014, most Americans will be setting their clocks one hour ahead, as they spring forward into daylight saving time (DST).

As a result, most people will lose an hour this Sunday, making it only 23 hours long, which could lead to a disruption in sleep patterns and make waking up on Monday more difficult.

DST is known to cause problems, not just with sleep, but also with getting to work on time. According to a national survey by Rasmussen Reports, 83 percent of participants in the spring of 2010 knew when to change their clocks. However, 27 percent admitted to changing the clock in the wrong direction, which caused them to be an hour early or an hour late at least once during their lifetime.

Springing forward an hour can be especially troublesome for those who aren't so-called "morning people", as it can negatively affect their mood and productivity at work. DST has also been blamed for an increase in heart attacks, automobile accidents, workplace injuries and dips in the stock market.

Dr. Alfred Lewy, director of Oregon Health and Science University's Sleep and Mood Disorders Laboratory in Portland, says that the time change is "an interesting paradox, because traveling one time zone east or west is very easy for anyone to adapt to."

When it comes to daylight saving time, for example, he pointed out that the new light-dark cycle works "perversely" against the body clock because there is less sunlight in the morning and more in the evening.

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The body clock involves a bunch of neurons located deep within the brain that sets our sleep-wake cycle, also referred to as our circadian rhythm, which spans over a period of approximately 24 hours.

To re-set our circadian rhythm, Dr. Lewey says that our sleep-wake cycle needs this signal every day: sunlight. That sunlight needs to shine through our eyes in order to re-set the cycle, but when our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) is different from the one that results from a time change, it can cause people to feel out of sorts, fatigued and less productive in general.

Thankfully, our body clocks eventually adjust to the time change, but here are some tips for furthering it along:

1. Get some morning light. This weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, try to get up and outside at dawn to take in some early sunshine to help sync your brain's sleep-wake cycle with the new light-dark cycle.

2. Avoid the evening light. Tempting as it may be, try to avoid being outdoors in the evening sunlight on both Sunday and Monday to further help your body clock adjust to the time change.

3. Consider taking melatonin. Taking a low-dose of the hormone melatonin on Friday in the late afternoon helps update the body clock at night, smoothing the transition in the morning when light further synchronizes the body clock. The exact mechanism for how melatonin, a dietary supplement, works in this manner remains unclear, but Dr. Lewy says that taking the hormone late Friday afternoon activates melatonin receptors in the brain, serving as a signal for darkness, which further helps the body clock adjust to the time change.

You may also want to try taking a nap on Monday afternoon, just when the fatigue from the time change begins to set in. According to Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor of Harvard Health, a single nap won't fully reset your body clock, but it can help you re-energize and focus for the remainder of the afternoon.

1. Harvard Health Blog, Take a nap to adjust to Daylight Saving Time, Patrick J. Skerrett, March 11, 2013.
2. Oregon Health and Science University, Melatonin Improves Mood In Winter Depression, Dr. Alfred Lewy, April 27, 2006.