Spring Forward or Fall Back? How to Adjust to Daylight Savings Time and Sleep Better

Alarm clock sitting outside next to a flower.

When you think about daylight savings time, do you immediately think about getting more sleep or less? For some people, the time change is no big deal. But for a lot of people, daylight savings time means daytime sleepiness, sluggishness, and exhaustion.

Thankfully though, all this can be avoided with a few easy changes to your routine in the week leading up to the time change. Before we get into how to adjust to daylight savings time, let’s take a brief look at its history, and why you may feel so tired after the change.

Why Do We Have Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight savings time, also known as daylight saving time (DST) was first used in Thunder Bay, Canada in 1908. It was intended to make as much use of daytime as possible and save energy. However, it was actually first invented in New Zealand in 1895.

The United States is only one of about 70 countries to use DST— however, parts of Arizona and all of Hawaii do not observe it. Daylight saving time in the US begins at 2:00 AM local time on the second Sunday in March, when you “spring forward,” or set your clock forward one hour. It ends on the first Sunday of November when you set your clocks back an hour, or “fall back.”

The United States first observed DST in 1918, where it was called “Fast Time,” but it was repealed less than a year later. It was reintroduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, calling it “War Time.”

Until 1966, there were no set rules for daylight saving time, leading to a lot of confusion up until the passing of the Uniform Time Act of 1966. This gave areas that wanted to opt out of DST the opportunity to do so while also establishing a synchronized DST schedule across the whole country to keep things in sync after each time change.

The Difference Between Daylight Savings Time and Standard Time

The main difference between daylight savings time and standard time is that standard time is determined by science, while daylight savings time is determined by people.

Time in any location is influenced by the earth’s position in relation to the sun, which is what creates the different time zones across the world. The earth rotates on its axis about 15 degrees per 60 minutes, and each 15-degree section becomes a time zone. Standard time is the local time of any region based on what time zone it exists in. 

For example, the standard time in Los Angeles is different than the standard time in Miami, or the standard time in Sydney because they’re all located in different time zones. So while the sun is rising in Los Angeles, people in Sydney may be getting ready for bed!

Daylight savings time affects a location’s standard time by modifying it by one hour at the designated time each year— either an hour forward in spring or an hour backward in fall. When daylight savings time begins, it “adds” an hour to a location’s standard time. When it ends, you “lose” that hour as you return to your normal standard time.

Remember what I talked about above— daylight savings time was a concept created by people to make the most out of their time. So while it affects how we set our clocks, it doesn’t actually alter time itself.

Why Do You Feel Tired After Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight savings time may be intended to save energy, but it can have the opposite effect on your own body! This is because your circadian rhythm may fall out of alignment after the clock change.

Your circadian rhythm helps regulate your sleep cycle, and because it’s influenced by light exposure, the combination of the time change and changed light outside can cause circadian misalignment.

Who is Affected Most by the Time Change?

Not everyone is affected by daylight savings time the same way. Some people may only feel groggy for a while. For others though, that sleep loss may put them at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, workplace injuries, or even fatal traffic accidents.

But people of a certain chronotype may actually be more affected by the time change.

A study from 2008 found that people who are most productive during the evenings— also known as night owls— have significantly more restless sleep following the time change.

Do you know if you are a night owl or a morning lark? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel most alert in the early morning, or later in the evening?
  • Do you feel the sleepiest in the early evening or past midnight?
  • Do you enjoy waking up at 6 AM or earlier, or at 8 AM or later?
  • Do you have the most energy a few hours after waking up or a few hours before bed?

If you feel and function better during the morning hours, you are a morning lark. If you’re more productive and energized in the evening, you’re a night owl. This is a good start to help you find your ideal sleep schedule, but the best way to find your ideal schedule is with your chronotype. We’ll get into this shortly.

Part of my contribution to the chronotype literature is to break the “night owl” and “morning lark” down even further into four chronotypes— the Lion, Wolf, Bear, and Dolphin. I’ll share more about how to know what chronotype you are if you don’t already, and how to use that knowledge to fine-tune your sleep for the time change even more.

So with all this in mind, what can you do to avoid the sleep deprivation that may occur after the time change?

How to Get Great Sleep as Daylight Savings Time Begins or Ends

Whether you are preparing to lose an hour as you transition into daylight savings time or gain one as you return to standard time, the time shift can be disorienting and rough on your sleep.  

To avoid any post-daylight savings time sleep problems, all you need to do is make some easy changes to your sleep hygiene and bedtime routine. These can help you sleep better whether you’re waking up to sunshine, or to darkness.

These tips aren’t just for adults— teens and kids of all ages will benefit too! Just be sure to incorporate these suggestions into your child’s bedtime routine as you would your own.

1. Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule— Preferably According to Your Chronotype

Your chronotype is your body’s natural inclination to be awake or asleep at certain times of day. Your chronotype is one of the biggest determining factors not only for your sleep schedule, but for your ideal windows of productivity.

To find your chronotype and start finding your unique schedule, check out my chronoquiz.

However, if you already know your chronotype but can’t follow that schedule due to work, social commitments, or other conflicts, it’s vital to still follow a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends or days without strict scheduling.

Remember: The more consistent your sleep schedule is, the easier it is to fall asleep and to wake up!

2. Eliminate Blue Light at Night

Blue light exposure is important for maintaining your circadian rhythm. However, too much blue light exposure at night can delay melatonin production and keep you awake.

You want your melatonin production to start early because if it is still running when you wake up in the dark, it makes it far more difficult to wake up. This will allow you to fall asleep more quickly, which will also allow you to wake up more easily.

The best way to eliminate blue light at night is to stop using all your electronic devices 60 to 90 minutes before bed. This includes your phone, your computer, and even your TV. Alternatively, you can use blue light blocking glasses to help your brain produce the melatonin you need to sleep, even while you use your devices. Just make sure they have amber lenses— that’s key to getting the most protection from your glasses.

3. Bring on the Morning Light!

As I said above, blue light exposure at night can make it harder to get the restful sleep you need each night. Well, it is the opposite in the mornings. Blue light in the morning turns off the melatonin faucet, making it easier to wake up.

The best way to get this is with morning light outside, but using a lightbox or GoodDay bulbs will certainly help, especially if it’s dark in the mornings. Ideally, you want 20 minutes of light exposure from one of the earlier mentioned bright light sources, whether it is the morning sun, a lightbox, or a specialty bulb.

It does not have to be direct exposure though— you can do this while you are brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or doing other morning activities. Obviously, you do not want to do this near your bed partner if they don’t get up at the same time you do, so keep their sleep in mind when you add blue light to your morning routine.

4. Listen to Some Music

Music can evoke many emotions, so why not play something that helps wake you up in the morning? Is there a song that brings back some nostalgic memories for you? Do you have a workout playlist? Using music that moves you can definitely help you wake up in the morning, give it a try.

If you enjoy listening to music around bedtime though, you may want to be careful what you choose. A recent study from Baylor University found that listening to catchy music before bed can make you much more likely to experience poor sleep. Participants who had a catchy song in their heads around bedtime had more trouble falling asleep, woke up more during the night, and spent more time in light sleep stages instead of more restful deep sleep.

So if you listen to music before bed, try sticking with more steady, melodic, or calming music to help your sleep quality.

5. Take a Cool— Not Cold— Shower In the Morning

It turns out that temperature can also be used when trying to gain a level of alertness, and cold works well. And while a cool shower may not sound ideal first thing in the morning, it can wake you right up. The cool water improves your circulation, which also boosts your alertness— both of which are helpful for morning wake-ups!

Go ahead and take your morning shower as normal, and for the last minute, slowly turn the handle to make the water gradually cooler. You want to make it mildly uncomfortable, but not unbearable. 

You can also try a contrast shower by starting with cool water, switching to your normal shower temperature, and finishing with cool water. There is some evidence that finishing on a shower cold enough to make you shiver slightly has some beneficial fat-burning effects. 

I’ll be the first to admit it’s not for everyone, but it may warrant some consideration if you are trying to lose some stubborn body fat!

6. Eat The Right Breakfast

Breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day. And it’s true! What you have for breakfast can make or break how well you wake up each morning. Here are some guidelines you can follow to make sure your breakfast can help you wake up and be ready to take on the day.

  • Avoid carbs in the morning, because they can make you sleepy. If you eat a muffin or a bagel, you might as well be taking a sleeping pill after you wake up. Instead, look for a light high protein, high-fat breakfast for your morning energy.
  • If you’re a coffee drinker, wait until 90 minutes after you wake up to enjoy your first cup. The timing is important since you want the caffeine to give you that boost of energy right as your cortisol lowers in order to get it back up again. Cortisol is one of the most alerting hormones in the body, and is a vital part of waking you up in the morning. Sleep is a dehydrating event, so instead of drinking coffee first thing, go for at least 15 ounces of water to replenish yourself.

How Daylight Savings Time Affects Each Chronotype

Remember how I said that daylight savings time affects the chronotypes differently? Here’s how the time change tends to affect people according to their chronotype.

When Daylight Savings Time Ends

Lions

When daylight savings time ends, you won’t need the extra hour of sleep— for you lions, it’s generally not in your nature to sleep in any way. If you’re a lion, Daylight Savings Time actually has a tendency to affect you negatively. Why? Because on this particular day, your internal clock will likely be going off at your normal time— 5:00 AM, which will now be 4:00 AM— and you’re not going to need to sleep in.

I recommend you try and stick to your normal schedule— plan a quiet activity like reading, extra meditation, or write and respond to emails. In about a day, your waking pattern should be adjusted. It’s best if you go into another area of your home and turn on all the lights. You won’t need melatonin production at that hour because you’re already up and starting your day.

Wolves

You’ll be very happy with your extra hour of sleep because wolves are generally affected positively. Why? Because you are always sleep-deprived!

Daylight saving time means you’re getting an extra hour of much-needed rest. However, I encourage you not to stay up later the night before. You’ll naturally want to stay up later knowing you’ll get the extra “free” hour, but it will eliminate any benefit you’ll receive from the catch-up sleep.

Dolphins

Now is the time to lower your anxiety and sleep in. Most Dolphins tell me they sleep best from 4:00-6:00 AM, so enjoy the extra hour! Just remember to get a glass of water to rehydrate when you wake and if you REALLY want to start your morning right, have sex. For you dolphins, sex makes a lot of sense from a chronotype and hormone perspective.

Bears

As you may have already guessed, if you’re a bear, daylight saving time will hardly have any effect on you. You can sleep in if you like. It will provide you with a little more rest, so enjoy the extra time if you’re so inclined. You’ve earned it!

When Daylight Savings Time Begins

As you may have already figured out, those with the bear or lion chronotypes probably won’t have any issues adjusting to losing an hour of sleep during the spring. So what do you do if you’re a Wolf of a Dolphin preparing to spring forward?

Here are my suggestions:

  • On Monday, eat dinner 15 minutes earlier than normal, and go to bed 15 minutes earlier than normal— no more, no less. Don’t worry if you don’t fall asleep right away, but be in bed, and lights out.
  • On Tuesday, wake up 15 minutes earlier, and go over to the window to get 15 min of sunlight while drinking a bottle of water or go outside for a quick 15-minute walk. If you find that difficult, you can use a specialty lightbox or bulb like I talked about above to help you wake up. Keep the same bedtime from Monday.
  • On Wednesday and Thursday, go to bed 20 minutes earlier, then another 20 minutes earlier Friday and Saturday. This will help your body adjust to the difference easier.
  • Immediately change the time on your bedroom clock when you wake up on Sunday morning. This helps your brain visualize the time change and adjust quicker.
  • In the three days before the time change, eat lunch and dinner 30-60 minutes earlier. This will help get your other daily routines in sync for the new time change. Around this time, you’ll also want to stop drinking caffeinated beverages at 1:00 PM to help with the earlier bedtime.

A few other guidelines I recommend you follow include:

  • If possible, avoid alcohol during the weekend of the time change.
  • For better sleep quality, keep up your exercise routine during the week. Maybe throw in an extra workout that weekend too.
  • On the morning of the time change, make sure you get sunlight to help reset your body clock.

Don’t Lose Sleep Over Daylight Savings Time!

The time change from daylight savings time can wreak havoc on your internal clock, but it doesn’t have to. You can get good sleep even as your body adjusts to the clock change. Give some of these tips a try and you can keep getting the restful sleep you need even as the daylight hours change.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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