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Tips for coping with the time change: how to adjust

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Tips for dealing with daylight saving time

Now that clocks have sprung forward an hour, Daylight Saving Time may cause problems for people coping with the sudden disruption and sleep loss it can bring, but there are ways to help you adjust.

Donna Arand, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, says that the time change means we will lose an hour of sleep only if we keep our usual sleep schedule.

“This will result in sleepiness and impaired performance for days or weeks until we make up the lost sleep and our body adjusts to the earlier bedtime,” said Donna Arand, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Arand says going to bed 15 minutes earlier each morning and 15 minutes earlier at night can help your body adjust more quickly. “This will help assure continued daytime alertness, maximal daytime functioning, and improved mood.”

According to numerous studies, the loss of just one hour of sleep from setting the clock forward for Daylight Saving Time can disrupt sleep patterns, which is consistent with reports of increased traffic accidents and lost productivity reported by sleep disrupted workers after the time change.

Lawrence Epstein, MD, medical director of Sleep Health Centers in Brighton, Mass., agrees. He says that sleep deprivation reduces job performance, as well as a person’s ability to pay attention and learn.

“Whether losing an hour due to daylight saving or dealing with jet lag from crossing time zones, you should plan your new sleep schedule to allow time for your body to adjust to the new schedule,” said Epstein. “Anticipating change and preparing a new schedule can prevent developing the ill effects of a time schedule change.”

Ralph Downey III, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., recommends a similar approach for adjusting to Daylight Saving Time. Just as he advises his patients to adjust their biological clock to a travel destination, he also recommends they do the same to adjust to the time change – and the earlier you start adjusting, the better.

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“When they travel from Los Angeles to Rome, for example, they need to plan ahead and set their watches on Rome's time,” said Downey. “When they get to Rome, they will enjoy it more than if they didn't make such an early transition. Likewise, when daylight saving time occurs, people should set their clocks back before the weekend starts. They should start living like it is already Monday. This advice doesn't sound too great on a Saturday, but it will feel better on Monday, in that a smoother transition of the one-hour shift will take place across three days and nights instead of one – think of it as adjusting 20 minutes per day or night – rather than one hourly change come Monday morning. Come Monday morning, you might be the only bright eyed and bushy tailed employee at the office.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), headquartered in Darien, IL, offers the following tips to help people adjust to the time change:

  • Re-adjust your sleep schedule by going to bed an hour earlier.
  • Re-adjust your eating schedule by having dinner an hour earlier.
  • Be careful when driving or operating machinery on the day of the time change.
  • Avoid napping, particularly before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine in the morning to wake you up and alcohol at night to help you go to sleep.
  • Keep a light schedule on the Monday after the time change. This involves minimizing driving and avoiding strenuous physical activities.
  • Eat properly, stay well hydrated and remain physically active.

According to the AASM, the amount of sleep each individual needs varies, depending on several factors, including age. But for most adults, seven-to-eight hours a night is recommended to achieve good health and optimum performance.

Meanwhile, Dr. Praveen Rudraraju, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., offers some additional tips for helping you adapt to the time change:

  • For the two weeks after the time change, get up five to 10 minutes earlier every two to three days.
  • Exercise 30 to 40 minutes in bright light (before 5 p.m.) daily.
  • Eat at least three to five hours before you go to bed.
  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages after noon.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink with dinner and do not have alcohol after dinner.
  • Don't do any computer work during the hour before bedtime. Instead, relax by reading, listening to quiet music or watching TV.
  • Stay out of your bedroom until bedtime. If possible, do not work in your bedroom.

One particular source of concern for parents is getting their children to adjust to the time change, especially when springing the clock forward means losing an hour of sleep at night.

Dr. Lewis Kass, a children's sleep specialist at Northern Westchester Hospital, explains to parents that it can be difficult to get children to bed at their normal time because it stays lighter longer after the change to Daylight Saving Time; thus, resulting in daytime sleepiness.

Kass says another factor that can disrupt children’s sleep problems after the time change is their use of handheld electronic devices until well after sunset. He tells parents that children should stop using such devices at dusk, although he admits it might be more realistic to turn them off by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

In a news release, Kass said not to read too much into what the time change means.

“If bedtime is 8:30 then keep it at 8:30 – for a few days it may take a little longer to fall asleep or a child might feel a little sleepier in the morning, but they will adjust as long as sleep times and wake times are kept on schedule," he said.