How to survive Daylight Savings Time

Ready to spring forward! Not.

We’re less than a week away to what insomnia doctors call the worst time of the year. No, not allergy season – that’s already here in sunny, warm Georgia – but Daylight Savings Time (DST). On April 12, we’ll be losing an hour of our lives, and for most of us, that means an hour less of sleep, maybe more.

Why does DST mess us up so badly? We all have an internal clock called a circadian rhythm that tells us when to be awake, when to be asleep, and when to be hungry. When we travel across time zones or otherwise mess with our clocks, it can throw us off, and our body doesn’t know what to do when. The spring adjustment for Daylight Savings Time is worse than the fall one because it requires us to do everything an hour earlier. Humans have a natural internal cycle of greater than 24 hours. This is why it’s easier to travel to the West Coast than back east – our bodies like to stay up later.

Trying to force our bodies into an earlier schedule can have negative health consequences such as stress on the heart. One study found that heart attacks are more likely the Monday after DST goes on. People are more likely to have accidents, miss appointments, and goof off at work that Monday, too.

So what can you do to minimize the impact of DST? I’ve been advising my patients to try to adjust earlier gradually, by 15-20 minutes every two to three days leading up to DST. For example, this blog post is published on Monday, six days before DST goes on. You could try going to bed and getting up twenty minutes earlier on Tuesday and Wednesday, then twenty minutes earlier than that on Thursday and Friday, and twenty minutes earlier than that on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, you’re landing at the right time and will be better prepared for the week ahead.

How does this work? Let’s say your typical bed time is 11:00 and your wake up time is 7:00 a.m. On Monday and Tuesday nights, you’ll go to bed at 10:40 and wake at 6:40 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Wednesday and Thursday, you’ll go to bed at 10:20 and wake at 6:20. Don’t plan to get too wild because you’ll then go to bed at 10:00 on Friday and wake at 6:00 on Saturday.

The stimulus control rules still apply – don’t lie for more than 20 minutes awake in bed. During this time, it’s particularly important to avoid blue light from screens two hours before bedtime and if you wake at night since light is our brain’s strongest signal for when it’s time to be awake.

I’ll admit I always have grand ambitions for doing this and never do. This year, I’m going to try to keep my wake time at 6:30 all next week, so at least I’ll be anchored at the earlier end of my wake range. This is also the time of year when I really like my sunrise alarm clock.

Also, if you don’t adjust gradually, don’t be surprised if you have trouble falling asleep – it’s hard for anyone to adjust their clocks an hour earlier. Whatever you do, be extra careful the week after DST goes on – there will be a lot of sleep-deprived people out there!

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