Get Back into Rhythm This Daylight Saving Time!
During National Sleep Awareness Month we “spring forward” for daylight saving time. For those unaware, this means we move our clocks forward or backward an hour, depending on the time of year. This gives us an extra hour of light each day. It can be jarring, but if we use it right, it may actually help us get better sleep!
Because science has taught us about circadian rhythms, we know that when and how we sleep is adjustable. People do it all the time – sometimes on purpose. For example, to work a night shift or beat traffic. More often it’s unintentional, like when we develop poor sleeping habits. In spring, daylight saving time means we’re getting up an hour earlier because we move our clocks forward. Rather than worry about this lost hour of sleep, wouldn’t it be nice to “fix” our circadian rhythm and get more sleep overall?
But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at how daylight saving time can be a sleep opportunity by learning more about it, circadian rhythms, and how to use them together for better sleep. You’ll never even notice that lost hour was missing.
The Founding Father(s) of Daylight Saving Time
There’s a little controversy about who officially gave us daylight saving time. The earliest mention of it was when Benjamin Franklin, who secured French assistance in the American Revolution (among many other achievements), wrote a letter to the Journal of Paris in 1784. In it, he observed that the sun provides free light. Not a brilliant idea by itself, but he realized that if you adjusted your clock to maximize that daylight, you’d save an hour of energy normally used for keeping things lit. An interesting idea, but it didn’t become popular until much later.
That was when the Germans entered the picture. In 1916, they instituted the first official daylight saving time to save fuel during World War I. Europe and then the U.S. later followed suit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here are some interesting facts about daylight saving time:
- Not everybody observes daylight saving time, even in the United States. Most of Arizona and Hawaii don’t, and bills are often floated in Congress to get rid of it. Florida is trying this year.
- Much of Europe refers to it as “summertime.”
- The idea that farmers are the reason we have daylight saving time is a myth. They were actually pretty annoyed about losing an extra hour of morning light when President Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1918.
- When you observe daylight saving time varies from country to country, and sometimes changes within the country itself. Vladimir Putin completely abolished it in Russia in 2014.
- After multiple studies, it’s been concluded that daylight saving time doesn’t actually save anybody energy.
- It took some time, trial, and error to get daylight saving time right in the United States. Before Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966, you could drive through seven different time zones on a trip from Moundsville, West Virginia to Steubenville, Ohio! Even Minneapolis and St. Paul had two different times!
- “Springing forward” can be chaotic for some. Studies have shown that both heart attacks and mine worker injuries increase after daylight saving time in March.
The Circadian Problem
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock or “sleep/wake cycle.” For human beings, it means that we’re “diurnal” – animals that operate during the daytime and sleep at night. It also means that our energy drops most between 2-4am (when we should be asleep), and 1-3pm (after we eat lunch). Beyond that though, sleep’s just a matter of age, hormones, and habits.
A part of the brain called the hypothalamus is what controls our circadian rhythm. Our eyes show it when it’s dark, which causes our bodies release melatonin, “the sleep hormone.” From there the burden shifts to us somewhat. Melatonin doesn’t automatically put us to sleep. We just feel sleepy. So darkness alone won’t do it. If you keep choosing to stay awake you’re basically fighting against your own body. And your circadian rhythm begins to veer off.
The more you fight the urge to sleep, the more you strain your circadian rhythm to get by with less. If you do this for too long, you run the risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems, and mental issues like depression or bipolar disorder. This is how daylight saving time can lead to mine worker accidents: our bodies know we’re getting up an hour earlier, even though the clock says otherwise. We end up feeling tired, and feeling tired leads to reduced response time and alertness, hence the mining accidents. Long story short: your circadian rhythm is important – protect it at all costs!
Now, as for the heart attacks, nobody knows for sure, but a working theory is that a busted circadian rhythm increases the stress hormone cortisol in your body and raises your bodily temperature. This makes it harder to sleep. Without a high-quality mattress from Lull to help with the temperature and sleep comfort, it’s very hard to recover from daylight saving time’s effects. Simply put, daylight saving time can be downright dangerous if you don’t do it right.
Using Daylight Saving Time to Sleep Better
So here’s the thing: if your sleep is off coming into National Sleep Awareness Month, why not use daylight saving time to fix it? After all, everybody else’s sleep will be screwed up too. Just as your circadian rhythm can be ruined with poor sleeping habits, it can be fixed with good ones. It’s not easy, but if you follow the steps below, daylight saving time could be your chance to turn over a new leaf and get better sleep for many National Sleep Awareness Months to come.
1. Adjust Your Bedtime… SLOWLY
There’s a Japanese engineering trick called “kaizen,” where you improve something by taking one small step at a time. For example, instead of starvation dieting to lose weight, you’d start by dropping your favorite fatty food for a week. Once you don’t miss it, you’d cut that plus another, and maybe start going to the gym weekly too. Then next week you’d keep the cut foods, eat a new vegetable, and go to the gym twice weekly and so on. Eventually, you’d get used to the better behavior you wanted without shocking your body by changing everything at once. Adjusting your circadian rhythm is similar.
Daylight saving time will force you to get up an hour earlier. To get a bedtime that works with it, go to bed an hour earlier, or half hour, or whatever you can manage. Do this for a week, then keep adjusting until you get to sleep when you want. As long as you keep getting up at the new normal time, you can keep sleeping earlier day by day, week by week, until you get used to having a new bedtime that matches your new wake-up time. Do this until you get the ideal number of sleep hours you need according to this sleep chart. Soon, your body will get used to it and voila! You now have a healthier circadian rhythm and get better sleep. And anytime you mess it up, use this same method to get back on track. Before you know it, falling back on the first Sunday of November will be a breeze and you’ll sleep better until you get there.
2. Nix Napping
Though your body will be sleepy between 1-3pm after lunch, you need to resist the urge to nap during the day. Nothing messes up a circadian rhythm like sleeping more at odd times, and fixing a circadian rhythm requires you not to cheat. A good alternative is exercising if you feel sleepy during the day. It will wake you up and keep you healthy too.
3. Use an Alarm Clock and Stick to It!
Obviously, if your circadian rhythm is messed up by daylight saving time or anything else, you can’t be expected to wake up at the same time every day on your own. This is where a good alarm clock helps. More importantly though, do not hit the snooze button when you use it, no matter how tired you feel! Though this may be rough at first, your body needs to get used to staying up during the same span of hours each day – oversleeping, napping, or anything that messes with that span and will keep your circadian rhythm out of whack, or even mess it up.
4. Avoid Light Right before Bedtime – ALL Light!
We live at a time where having a mobile phone or other electronic device is almost as basic as sleeping itself. Unfortunately, these electronic devices give off light – specifically “blue light” – that can keep you awake when you need to be asleep. Blue light fools your body into thinking it’s daytime, so it won’t produce melatonin. To fix your circadian rhythm during daylight saving time, you have to cut the phone or tablet off at the same time every night and just get to sleep.
5. Eat Right or Not at all Before Bedtime
Though some foods do help you sleep, digestion itself can keep you awake. You might eat something that disagrees with you and creates stomach pain, or has something with a stimulant in it, like caffeine. If you must eat, make sure it’s 2-3 hours before bed during daylight saving time. This gives you time to deal with any issues before you hit the pillow and maintains any corrections you’re making to fix your circadian rhythm.
6. Set the Right Mood
Besides getting to bed at the same time each night, it doesn’t hurt to make your sleeping experience pleasant. Experts have found that soft, soothing music and a clean, dark bedroom can help your body think positive thoughts about sleeping and waking up at new times. Taking a nice hot shower or a warm bath before bed doesn’t hurt either. Since this is National Sleep Awareness Month, why not make the whole experience of going to sleep better? Speaking of which…
7. Use the Ultimate Sleep Mattress
If there’s one thing that just plain makes it easier to sleep, it’s treating yourself to a nice, new mattress. And, you can’t go wrong with a gel-infused memory foam premium mattress from Lull. Besides maintaining your body’s ideal sleeping temperature of 69 degrees, it accounts for your partner not having the same daylight saving time issues you do. By transferring motion, it lets them slip in and out of bed while you get your circadian rhythm in check and you won’t even notice. The 1.5” memory foam top layer makes it feel like you sleep on a cloud, and this online mattress sets itself up once you get it to make sure you’re ready to tackle daylight saving time disruption. Nothing corrects your circadian rhythm like getting to sleep when you need to. And, with a 10-year warranty, it won’t matter whether you’re springing forward or falling back. You’ll always get your best sleep.
National Sleep Awareness Month is an opportunity to get sleep right, and daylight saving time can be a part of that. Though it may throw off your circadian rhythm initially, using these skills will help you correct that. And you’ll be ready if jet lag, pregnancy, late shifts, upset stomach, or medications mess with your rest too. Daylight saving time doesn’t have to be the time of year when you lose sleep. Approach it the right way, and it can be when you get your circadian rhythm in order for your best sleep all year round. Sleep well!