We have officially hit that time of year again when the sun sets earlier, and the days get shorter.
The customary turning clocks an hour backward will take place on Sunday, Nov. 6. And while it’s true that we gain an hour of sleep, some of us will feel out of sorts and have trouble adjusting.
“For most people, the time change in November only causes mild adjustment issues; some people, however, take days to weeks to adjust to the time change, especially those who are sleep-deprived or have trouble sleeping at baseline,” said Reeba Mathew, MD, a sleep specialist with UT Physicians.
Our internal circadian rhythm works in sync with the outside light-dark cycle. Although it is only an hour, it is difficult for our internal or circadian clock to make the change in one day.
According to Mathew, who is also an associate professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, our bodies like routine, and abrupt change can be disruptive.
To make a smoother transition during the “fall back” time change, Mathew recommends going to bed at your usual time the night before the switch and enjoying the extra hour of sleep. Some adults and children may benefit from delaying bedtime 15-20 minutes every night for three nights (with the corresponding adjustment for wake times) before the time change takes effect.
Mathew also stresses the importance of exposure to sunlight during the time change. Making sure you have natural light exposure in the morning after the time change in November is critical.
“Adjusting to the time change is easier in the fall as bedtime can usually stay the same; the time change in the spring – where we lose one hour – is more difficult,” said Mathew.
You may question why we go through these time changes twice a year and if they are necessary. Most scientific societies, including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, believe that the United States needs to adopt a permanent year-round standard time. This conclusion is based on evidence that there is an increased risk of medical errors, motor vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and stroke with the time change, especially for the one that occurs in the spring.
In the meantime, Mathew encourages the development of positive sleep habits, including:
- Setting a consistent bedtime routine, even on the weekends.
- Aiming to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Avoiding excessive caffeine use throughout the day, especially after 3 p.m.
- Eating meals three or four hours before bedtime.
- Avoid looking at phones, laptops, or other electronic devices, including the television, for 30 to 45 minutes before going to sleep.
“Adequate sleep is just as important as eating right and exercising. Proper rest plays a role in boosting your mood and increasing your overall immunity and resistance,” she said.
Read more about the UT Physicians sleep clinic or make an appointment with one of our specialists.