‘Spring Forward’ Leaves Night Owls Behind

Losing an hour of sleep this weekend may be more difficult for some than others. Find out why — and what you can do to make the transition to daylight saving time a little easier.

If you’re like some of us here at Everyday Health, you don’t sleep nearly as much as you should. We get it — with work, school, family, friends, and other obligations, who has time for eight hours of shut-eye every night? That’s what weekends are for, right? To steal a few extra winks and reset (or at least recalibrate) your internal clock.

This weekend, unfortunately, you’ll also have to adjust your real clock. At 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, most of the country will “spring forward” into daylight saving time, meaning you’ll lose a precious and likely much-needed hour of snoozing. For 70 to 80 percent of Americans, this won’t have any significant impact. But for the rest of us, the transition may be more difficult.

People who are chronically sleep-deprived or who fall under the chronotype “night owl” — meaning they’re genetically programmed to start and end the day later — could be left behind when the rest of the world springs forward, MSNBC reports.

“The circadian clock prefers us to extend our sleep in the morning when permitted,” said James Wyatt, MD, a specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, in an interview for the news site. This means, essentially, that it’s easier to sleep in late than to go to bed early — especially for people whose chronotypes make them naturally more alert in the evening. Even if so-called night owls make an effort to move up their bedtime, Wyatt told MSNBC, they’re likely to end up just lying awake in the dark.

This theory is supported by data from Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich, Germany, which found that daylight saving time causes a significant seasonal disruption in the body’s natural rhythm — a disruption we never quite adapt to.

“The circadian clock does not change to the social change,” lead researcher Till Roenneberg said in a report published in Current Biology. “During the winter, there is a beautiful tracking of dawn in human sleep behavior, which is completely and immediately interrupted when daylight saving time is introduced in March.”

Roenneberg and his team have done multiple studies on the effects of DST. For one, they followed 50 people for eight weeks during and after the “spring forward” transition, taking into account each person’s individual body clock and sleep preferences. They found that while neither night owls nor morning larks ever really adjusted to the change, the former tended to struggle (and thus suffer) more than the latter. Some experts speculate that this is because late sleepers are already out of sync with nature’s clock and thus have to compensate for a greater seasonal shift than their early-rising peers.

“Before artificial lighting, humans tended to live much more by the sun cycle,” explained Louis Ptacek, MD, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in a story for Health Day. “Whereas, now, people stay up all night and turn the lights on, which affects our biological clock. There is no question that we have been changing our clocks long before daylight saving time came along.”

So what’s a poor sleep-deprived night owl to do?

For starters, try slowly moving up your bedtime every night from now until Saturday. Not only will you get more sleep during the week and have less to make up for on the weekend, but you’ll prepare your body for losing an hour come Sunday.

Second, resist the urge to take a nap or drink coffee on Saturday afternoon. Doing so will make it more difficult to go to bed at an appropriate time later that night.

Finally, practice good sleep habits: Keep your bedroom cool and quiet, don’t use your laptop too late in the evening, and nix the nightcap after dinner. You booze, you lose.

By Allison Takeda