Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time Changes

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
March 02, 2015

Make the shock to your body clock and sleep regimen more gradual.

Every spring, we move our clocks forward one hour, after moving backwards in the fall. Adjusting back to Standard Time in the fall is usually easier than the spring switch, since you are gaining an extra hour of sleep. But early-risers face dark mornings, and we all see the sun set earlier. Some people find themselves falling asleep earlier at night and waking up before they’ve had enough sleep, notes Robert Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley and author of "Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day." It's also possible you'll fall asleep easily but have a hard time waking up. How do you adjust when you fly west into a later time zone? The change is similar.

In general, it takes about a day to adjust to a change of one hour in either direction, but people vary quite a bit. Stick to the basics of good sleep habits. Avoid blue-light sources such as computers, cell phones, and iPads at least 90 minutes before bedtime, and if you wake up during the night. Stay away from caffeine after noon and alcohol close to bedtime. Exercise several hours before bedtime. Wear ear plugs and eye masks, if needed, to shield yourself from noise and lights.


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Some argue that we’d be best off keeping Daylight Saving Time year-round, avoiding both switches. One study using national data on traffic fatalities estimated that year-round Daylight Saving Time would reduce pedestrian deaths by 13 percent from 5 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 9 p.m. Deaths of people in cars would drop 3 percent during those hours, the researchers estimate. Elected officials in a dozen states have considered legislation to opt out of the national time switches, by remaining permanently on daylight saving time or standard time.

The original idea came from Benjamin Franklin, as a way to save on candles, and it was used in both world wars to save energy for the military effort. David Prerau, author of "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time," and many argue that shifting daylight to the time when people are busier — at the end of the day — saves energy, cuts traffic accidents, and reduces crime. More muggings occur at dusk than dawn.

The “spring forward” is particularly hard on night-owls and some teenagers, and can increase their daytime sleepiness for up to three weeks, some research shows. Subjects hadn’t adjusted after a month, in one study. Workers typically get less sleep the night before the first Monday, when they sustain more — and worse — job injuries. The number of heart attacks seems to increase for the first three days of the week, especially among women. People may waste more time on the job “cyberloafing,” too.

For the “spring ahead,” Martin Young, who studies the body clock at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, suggests waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual on the Saturday and Sunday before the first Monday on Daylight Saving Time. Eat a good breakfast and go outside in the sunlight in the early morning. Unless you have heart disease, he says, exercise both days outdoors.

Don‘t skimp on sleep. Instead, go to bed 20 minutes earlier for three nights before the switch, says Rosenberg. During the first week, Rosenberg says, be sure to exercise. “If you are feeling sleepy during the day, consider a short power nap of no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Several studies have shown that short naps can increase alertness for up to 4 hours and will not cut into your sleep that night,” he says.


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February 16, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA