Daylight-Saving Time and Sleep

Daylight-saving time doesn’t have to disrupt your sleep schedule. A few simple tips help ensure sound sleep during daylight-saving time and beyond.

For most of us, the springtime switch from standard to daylight-saving time is merely an inconvenience. It might be the cause of skipped appointments if we manage to miss all those reminders telling us to move our clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday in March.

But for others, the first few days of daylight saving time can mean sleepiness and reduced concentration. “It really does damage some people’s sleep,” acknowledges James A. Davis, supervisor of the Anderson Hospital Center for Sleep Medicine in Maryville, Ill. A fourth of the world observes daylight-saving time, and researchers have documented that some people never really get into the swing of it.

Daylight Saving Time: Protect Your Sleep

To understand how to avoid sleepiness around the start of spring, it helps to understand exactly how daylight-saving time affects the body, Davis says. Our internal clocks are governed by our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that determines our sleep and wake periods, as well as other biological mechanisms. The first day of daylight-saving time realigns how we synch our mechanical clocks with our “internal clock,” otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.

People who have a problem with daylight-saving time are those who adjust by sacrificing an hour of sleep. Davis doesn’t recommend following this course of action and, instead, says you should respect your sleep time and your body’s need for it. Here’s how:

  • Reset all your clocks on the Saturday before the switch. (Remember the digital clocks in the kitchen and your car.) Many computers automatically adjust to daylight-saving time, but make a note to check.
  • Get a full night’s sleep during the switch.
  • Plan on your conventional time for rising on the first day of daylight-saving time.
  • If you’ve already set your clock ahead by Saturday evening (see step 1), following your conventional bedtime will ensure you get a full night of sleep. In any event, get a full night’s sleep by adjusting the time you hit the hay. “Essentially, you’re going to be getting up an hour earlier, so you have to go to bed an hour earlier,” Davis says.
  • Resist the temptation to catch a nap in the middle of the day on Sunday.
  • Retire on Sunday at your conventional bedtime.

Sheilagh Weymouth, DC, a chiropractor who provides holistic primary care in New York City, is so sensitive to the switch to and from daylight-saving time that she reorganizes her day when she gains an hour each fall. When she started to align her workday to the available daylight in winter, she found the switch “much more helpful to my body.” When daylight-saving time rolls around again, her professional schedule, not her body, will adapt. “I’m not going to offer those 8 a.m. appointments then. Our bodies naturally start to awaken with the light of day, and I’m going to use this as a teaching moment with my patients.”

Daylight-Saving Time: Give It a Rest

The switch to daylight-saving time highlights the fact that Americans generally have poor sleep habits, Davis says. Some hints for getting through daylight-saving time also apply year-round:

  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need eight to nine hours of sleep every night. This is true even as we age and restful sleep becomes more difficult. The right response to sleep problems is to address them, not settle for less sleep than we really need.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Reserve the bedroom for two activities: sleep and sex. In particular, this means no food and no television.
  • Skip the alcohol. If you think a drink will help induce sleep, try one without alcohol and without caffeine — herbal tea is a better choice.

Most people adjust to daylight-saving time in a day or two, Davis says. The bright side is that the switch back to standard time, during fall, is likely to be much easier.

By Elizabeth Connor