Daylight saving time is back! And if you value a good sleep sesh, you’re probably dreading losing an hour of shut-eye.
Having more “usable” daylight hours is nice and all. But after months of living like a winter vampire, you then have to lose a whole hour of precious sleep?! 😱
In 2021, DST starts on March 14 at 2:00 a.m. Eastern time (when we “spring forward” 1 hour). And it ends on November 7 at 2:00 a.m. Eastern time (when we “fall back” 1 hour).
Let’s get to the bottom of DST and sleep. Plus, how you can deal with and prep for that lost hour.
Making the move from standard time to daylight saving time essentially messes up your natural circadian rhythm (aka your sleep-wake cycle). That’s the 24-hour biological cycle your body operates on that is influenced by morning light and evening darkness.
Some studies suggest it can take a few months for your biological clock to adjust to the DST shift, while other sleep experts believe recovery takes only a few days.
Sleep debt and social jetlag
A 2009 study found that people typically lose 40 minutes of sleep the Monday after moving the clocks ahead. This can make it difficult to feel alert and awake the next day, potentially causing you to push through a lack of sleep because of work or other obligations. This pressure to prioritize life demands over sleep is called social jetlag.
When you lose sleep because of DST (or because you’ve watched too much Netflix), you also build up “sleep debt.” You can get back into a good sleep groove with the help of a set bedtime and naps, but this can be difficult to do when you’re already behind on your Zzz’s.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night. And recent research suggests that about 35 percent of working American adults get less than that.
For some folks, moving the clock ahead makes it hard to sleep *period*. Temporary insomnia can occur after any shift in sleep schedule, including DST.
Planning ahead can actually help make the transition a lot smoother. A few weeks before DST, try these tips to create a solid sleep routine:
- Avoid things that eff with your sleep. Caffeine and alcohol before bed, heavy dinners, and snacking can all hurt your bedtime bliss.
- Maintain a consistent sleep routine. Hit the hay and wake up the same time erryday (yes, even on weekends). Getting those coveted 7 hours of sleep per night before DST comes a knocking might help.
- Change your bedtime. Go to bed earlier and try waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier for 2 or 3 days before DST starts. This minor adjustment might ease the transition.
- Get outside. Getting some sunlight can help reset your circadian rhythm to get things back on track. Go for a nice walk, run, hike, or swim to soak up some vitamin D.
- Take a short nap. Take 20-minute naps here and there if you’ve been wrecked by sleep debt.
The jury is still out on how bad DST is for your health, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine actually doesn’t support seasonal time changes like DST because of potential health risks.
Here’s what research has found so far:
- Heart health risks. A 2018 review found that more heart attacks occur after springing forward.
- Increased stroke risk. Studies have found that there are more ischemic stroke hospitalizations in the first 2 days after the DST transition. But if you look at the entire first week, numbers aren’t that different.
- Less alertness. It’s no secret that sleep deprivation affects your mental perception. Research suggests that traffic accidents increase at the start of DST, especially in the first 2 days. In the United States, the risk of a fatal traffic accident goes up 6 percent after the spring transition.
- More depression. The end of DST in the fall is linked to an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder and depression in general. A 2017 study found that depressive episodes increased by about 11 percent for 10 weeks after setting the clocks back an hour.
Losing sleep sucks, especially if you’re already not getting enough Zzz’s. Daylight saving time does mess with your circadian rhythm, which can alter your sleep cycle and make you tired and less alert. And it could take a few days to a few months for your body to adjust.
The best way to avoid these effects is to get ahead on your sleep practices before springing forward. Stick to a bedtime routine and start making time for slumber. You probably need it!