Eric Suni has over a decade of experience as a science writer and was previously an information specialist for the National Cancer Institute.
Daylight saving time (DST) is a one-hour clock adjustment observed by most of the U.S. and Canada, as well as some other countries, that begins in March and ends in November. From November to March, those locations operate on standard time.
In the United States, switching between standard and daylight saving time occurs on specific weekends:
Although the clock shifts only one hour at a time, this abrupt time change can cause meaningful sleep disruptions. The shift to daylight saving time in March, in particular, can lead to reduced sleep quantity and quality.
Even worse, studies have found an association between the daylight saving overnight time change and short-term risk of heart attacks, stroke, traffic accidents, emergency room visits, and serious mood disturbances. A lack of sleep caused by the time change can affect thinking, decision-making, and productivity.
These problems arise because the switch to daylight saving time alters your normal pattern of daylight exposure. This change can throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that helps control sleep and many other biological processes.
In short, the switch to daylight saving time shouldn’t be taken lightly. Developing a plan to cope with the time change can reduce its impact on your sleep and overall wellness.
Because the switch to daylight saving time happens at a set time each year, you have the opportunity to prepare in advance, so that it’s less likely to harm your health.
Several practical steps can improve your sleep on the weekend of the time change and enhance your sleep habits over the long-term.
You can get ready to “spring forward” in March by gradually shifting your schedule in the week leading up to the time change. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises trying to slowly adjust your schedule by going to bed around 15-20 minutes earlier each day.
The timing of other daily activities, such as meals and exercise, can also be gradually adjusted forward. By making these changes gradually over the week before the time change, you begin daylight saving time having already started to acclimate to the new time on the clock.
An important step in preparing for daylight saving time is obtaining quality sleep in the nights leading up to the time change. If you enter the daylight saving weekend already sleep deprived, it’s more likely you’ll have significant ill-effects in response to the time change.
In addition, receiving extra sleep beforehand can help you build up a “sleep bank” to better cope with the switch to daylight saving time. Studies have found that banking sleep before short periods of reduced sleep can decrease cognitive impairment and help preserve motor skills.
Having built up a reserve of extra sleep may also reduce your sleep drive, making it easier to stay awake during the day and avoid involuntarily dozing off.
At any time of year, relaxation methods, ranging from basic deep breathing to mindfulness meditation, can bring calm to your mind and body and make it easier to smoothly transition into sleep.
In the week before the shift to daylight saving time, you can apply these techniques as you gradually adjust your bedtime earlier. Relaxation methods may also come in handy if you find that you’ve woken up in the middle of the night.
Although the time change doesn’t officially occur until 2 a.m., set your watch and household clocks to the new time before you go to bed. This helps you hit the ground running and avoid any timing mishaps on Sunday.
Most cell phones and electronic devices automatically update to daylight saving time overnight. If your devices aren’t set to update the time automatically, make sure to adjust them before bed.
Light is the central driver of circadian rhythm, so finding time for daylight exposure on the days following the change to daylight saving time can help your body’s internal clock acclimate to the new timing of light and dark.
Natural light has the most powerful effect on our bodies’ circadian rhythm. Even on a cloudy day, natural light provides more of the illumination that works to align circadian rhythm than artificial indoor lighting does.
To decrease sleep disruptions after the switch to daylight saving time, make a plan to go outside, ideally in the morning, and receive sun exposure on the Sunday after the time change. If you live in a cold climate that makes being outside difficult, open your curtains and sit near a window to take in a meaningful dose of natural light.
With the right preparation, you can reduce the chances that you’ll suffer sleeping problems because of the switch to daylight saving time. Nevertheless, it’s wise to try to take precautionary measures in case your sleep is affected.
Try not to overload your schedule on the Sunday or Monday after the time shift in case you’re experiencing daytime sleepiness. If possible, schedule important meetings or events for later in the week when you’ve had more time to adjust. It’s also best to avoid long drives right after the time change because of the potential dangers of drowsy driving.
It’s much easier to receive consistent sleep if you have healthy habits and a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. These are known collectively as sleep hygiene, and upgrading your sleep hygiene can pay dividends during daylight saving time and throughout the year.
Although there are many components of healthy sleep hygiene, some important elements to consider include:
Eating well is vital for overall health, and proper nutrition is tied to sleep as well. Although no single diet has been proven to be the best for sleep, balanced diets made up of lots of fruits and vegetables tend to provide the nutrients the body needs and have been associated with better sleep.
Other ways to prevent food-related sleep disruptions include:
If you find yourself grappling with significant daytime sleepiness in the days after switching to daylight saving time, a short nap may be beneficial. Keeping a nap under 30 minutes can boost your alertness while reducing grogginess after waking up.
Naps are best in the early afternoon when most people experience a dip in wakefulness. Avoid naps that are too late in the afternoon or evening because they can make it harder to fall asleep at night, exacerbating misalignment of your sleep schedule.