While we may enjoy the extra hour of daylight after work or school, shifting to daylight saving time can throw us off-kilter. Here’s how to prepare.
Many of us will wake up Sunday morning, look at our phones and think, “I can’t believe I slept so long!” before realizing what actually happened—our clocks shifted ahead an hour.
We’ll float through the day feeling a little disconnected from reality and our daily routines. What time is it? Am I hungry? Should I make myself go to bed now?
The dreamy disconnection feels kind of pleasant until Monday morning hits like a ton of bricks and we stagger out of bed, blindsided by the alarm. What? Why? Can I call in sick?
This odd, communal experience results from the annual transition we make from standard time to daylight saving time (DST). While DST does have benefits—more recreation time at night and, debatably, energy conservation—the shift is associated with a number of negative outcomes, including increased heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, emergency room visits, mood problems and suicide [1, 2, 3].
Some negative effects fall away once we settle into the new time. However, DST generally is still worse for our health because it limits the amount of sunlight we get in the morning and increases the amount we get in the evening. This can throw off our circadian rhythm (our internal clock), which regulates all sorts of biological processes.
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to prepare your body for DST and reset your body clock. Read on to learn more.
Negative effects of time change
The transition to daylight saving time causes our circadian rhythms to conflict with external clocks. This mismatch can disrupt vital processes including our immune system, liver function, and our physiology . Any disruption to these important systems can create meaningful consequences.
Circadian rhythms depend largely on exposure to light. Daylight savings time results in less light in the morning and more light in the evening. Darker mornings may cause our bodies to produce less serotonin (the mood-boosting hormone). Brighter evenings may cause our bodies to produce less melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep).
Clearly, time shifts can wreak havoc on our physical and mental well-being. If you’re prone to issues with anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart problems or other health concerns, you may have all the more reason to prepare for the time change.
Steps you can take to smooth the transition
Gradually adjust your schedule
Ease the transition by adopting an earlier bedtime a few days before the time change. On the first night, go to bed and wake up 15 minutes early. On the second night, aim for 30 minutes. On the last night, 45 minutes. By the time Sunday evening rolls around, your body will be better prepared for a bedtime and wake time that’s one hour earlier than usual.
Adjust mealtimes accordingly so that your body gets used to eating dinner earlier than usual.
Spend time outside
On the Sunday after the change, make plans to spend time outdoors, particularly during the morning. Sunlight, even on a cloudy day, is best for resetting your circadian rhythm.
Make a point to keep seeking out early morning light to encourage your body to produce serotonin. Avoid bright light at night, especially 1-2 hours before bedtime, to promote melatonin production and nighttime sleepiness.
Take a quick nap
If you feel tired during the day, napping for 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon can boost your energy. Avoid sleeping longer than that because it can make you feel even groggier and interfere with nighttime sleepiness.
Delay your morning routine
If you’re able to do so, push your morning routines and responsibilities an hour later than usual for the first few days after the transition. Try to avoid early morning meetings and similar obligations in which you’ll be expected to be mentally sharp. If possible, you might reschedule important meetings for later in the week, after you’ve had time to adjust.
We hope these tips help you sail smoothly through the time change into a bright and happy spring.
While many of us adjust quickly to the time change, if you notice increased difficulty managing your mood, sleep, anxiety or other mental health issues, you might benefit from talking to a professional.
Call your doctor or contact Athena Care, for mental health care in Tennessee.
One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.
Rachel Swan, MS
Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.