A Safe Way to Fall Back: Tips for the Time Change

A Safe Way to Fall Back: Tips for the Time Change

Over the past several months, many people have been plagued by sleepless nights.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a perfect storm for sleep problems, including difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep and waking earlier than desired.

Most Americans will look forward to reclaiming the extra hour of lost sleep as daylight saving time (DST) ends on Nov. 1, 2020 and our clocks fall back an hour. This changeover is more than just a simple inconvenience and can be disruptive to our body clock. The accompanying sleep disruption could result in lower energy, mental exhaustion, irritability and a decrease in productivity.

Although people have generally reported more significant disruptions to their sleep with the spring forward than the fall back, a previous study showed that fatal traffic accidents increase the Monday following both changes. It has also been reported that the risk of heart attacks and strokes increase when we lose an hour of sleep in the spring, with an approximately similar decrease when we reclaim that hour of sleep in the fall.

In the spring, the early morning darkness that accompanies the extra hour of sunlight in the evening exposes you to a new natural light-dark cycle. Re-adjustment to our new fall schedule typically occurs within a week, during which it may be harder to fall asleep and wake up later. Twilight and darkness tend to arrive earlier once DST ends. The shorter and darker days that come with the fall may also have implications for pedestrian safety.

As we again prepare to alter our routines and schedules on command, it is important to be aware of strategies for a more graceful transition to maximize the extra hour of sleep and minimize its disruptive effects on our body clock.

Time Change Tips

Here are some tips to adjust to the time change while maintaining health and safety:

  • Make gradual shifts. A later bedtime (10-15 minutes later) is recommended in the days leading up to the fall back, or the night before at a minimum.
  • Have a night-time ritual that helps create a powerful signal for sleep. Avoid high intensity light, specifically from electronic screens, within two hours of bedtime. This light hinders melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness.
  • Seek light exposure during the waking hours using either natural sunlight (if available), a dawn stimulator or a light box. Conversely, avoid bright light when it is dark outside to reset your circadian rhythm.
  • Maintain the same schedule as much as possible. Being consistent with eating and other structured daytime activities, as well as keeping your caffeine and alcohol consumption minimal, can help ease the transition.
  • Exercise caution while driving or walking near a road in the early morning or late at night following the clock shift. Pedestrians are advised to break out the reflective gear and flashlights as necessary.

Remember, a night of good sleep is a key ingredient for both physical and mental well-being.

For more information about your sleep health and sleep disorders, or to inquire about a sleep study, please call the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center at 850-431-4400 or visit our website.

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