Fall back in sync

How to gain an hour with Daylight Saving Time the healthy way

How to gain an hour with Daylight Saving Time the healthy way
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Tips for coping with Daylight Saving Time

Good sleep hygiene

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Clocks fall back an hour on November 6, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time.

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Updated Wednesday November 2, 2011

Have you ever changed your clock and found that gaining an hour really impacted your energy level, alertness and ability to focus?

There's a reason for that. According to Dr. Sat Sharma, a Sleep Disorder Specialist with the Winnipeg Health Region's Sleep Disorder Centre at Misericordia Health Centre, we all have what's referred to as a biological or internal clock. For the most part, from day to day, our body's internal clock is in sync with the standard clock or time clock. Cues such as light or routine activities that keep us on schedule help keep our internal clock and the standard clock in sync.

When we lose or gain an hour, those two clocks don't match up. That's why our bodies may feel something similar to jet lag.

"It's like jet lag where you're all of a sudden going to sleep and waking up at different times," says Sharma. "It's like going to Toronto from Winnipeg and all of a sudden you have to change your schedule and go to sleep earlier. If you change six time zones, it's a major disruption."

The sudden change in time is what makes us feel groggy. Our body is ready to sleep but the clock says it's not quite time yet. The opposite is true in the morning. When the alarm goes off it feels strange because we may be waking up earlier - if we're not getting to sleep later than is advisable that is. In the morning we want to sleep later but can't. Until your internal clock catches up with the time clock, feeling "off" is completely normal.

"Although we will have an extra hour, that hour may not be sufficient to get used to the new clock times," he says. "Over the next several days people will be waking up earlier than the adjusted time by losing sleep as not falling asleep sooner and staying in bed for an extra hour will not just transform into sleep in the morning. Thus they may not be fully awake physically and could be groggy at work."

How long does it take to get those two clocks in sync? It will take a minimum of one week and often two to three weeks for your body to completely adjust to the new time.

"It's not quick. It takes approximately five days to synchronize," says Sharma. "For those five days people are going to be a little tired or sleepy in the morning and will also suffer from some degree of insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep."

"The best option will be to make small adjustments a week before. One can start going to bed 15 or 30 minutes earlier and start waking up 15 to 30 minutes earlier to that there will not be a big, sudden change," says Sharma. "It's also important to start doing things earlier that are part of your routine - eating earlier, exercising earlier, for example."

The average person may be impacted by gaining that extra hour and syncing up our body clock with the standard clock but there are three groups who are particularly affected. One group is those with delayed sleep phase syndrome or simply put, slower internal clock. This typically includes teenagers or younger people whose internal clocks are slower than the time clock and are comfortable going to bed at midnight or 1:00am and sleeping later. Another group is what Sharma calls short sleepers - the people who barely get by with six or seven hours of sleep a night (as opposed to the recommended seven to 10 hours a night). Another group who may be at higher risk to feel the impact of Daylight Saving Time (DST) is people on shift work who may be chronically sleep deprived as a result of working when most people are sleeping.

Remember, says Sharma: "Sleep is very important and sufficient sleep over the week after the change will be crucial as people may in fact lose some sleep."

Tips for coping with Daylight Saving Time

  1. Get ready for it. Go to bed 10, 15, or 20 minutes earlier at least four or five days before, your internal clock will already be ready to adjust to the sudden time change. Don't forget to eat earlier too. The little things will make a big difference in how your body responds to the time change. (This actually works. Dr. Sharma intuitively prepares his body for the time change and as a result, is in sync by the time the time clock is actually changed.) Yes, this idea even works with children.
  2. Practice good sleep hygiene. For tips on how to do that, click here (link to Good sleep hygiene pullout).
  3. Avoid coffee and alcohol, which can negatively impact a good night's sleep. Given DST falls on the weekend, it's possible this may play a factor for some people.
  4. Exercise in the evenings, but not too late. Exercise can induce sleep but if you do it later than three or four hours before bed time, it may rev you up.
  5. Speak with your teen about their circadian rhythm well in advance of the time change. Offer suggestions about how they can navigate it with minimal disruption. Support them in making changes to their routine.
  6. Shift workers need to be very careful about making sure they get the same number of hours of sleep they did before the time change.

Good sleep hygiene

Our society may be chronically sleep deprived (there's a lot to do and we want to be awake for most of it, often with an electronic device in tow). Many people don't even get seven and a half hours of sleep a night. Truth is that every person needs a different amount of sleep but experts suggest between seven and 10 hours of sleep a night. When you wake up, you should feel rested, not sleepy. (If you wake up feeling sleepy, you need more sleep. It's that simple.)

Tips on getting a good night's sleep:

  1. Avoid coffee and alcohol.
  2. If you must nap, keep it brief. Longer naps can encourage insomnia.
  3. In fact, try for one single, consolidated sleep - experts suggest it's preferable.
  4. Just sleep in your bedroom - don't watch TV or do other activities.
  5. Create a comfortable sleep environment, which includes:

    • The right temperature (think like the three bears - not too cold, not too hot, but just right.).
    • Paying attention to noise (less is much better and more calming).
    • Block out light (the right window treatments can make your room dark so you get a better night's sleep).
  6. Stick with fixed bedtime and wake-up times, even on weekends.

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