Fall has arrived! It’s time to dust off the jackets that have been hanging so patiently all summer, and step into the crisp autumn air. Pumpkins and squash in all varieties are ready for harvest and are starting to be prominently featured on menus and in stores. The leaves, mostly staying the same color because, after all, it is California. Truth be told, the changing seasons don’t affect us as noticeably here on the West Coast, but soon we will be joining the rest of the country (except for Arizona and Hawaii— and soon maybe even California!) in the age-old tradition of turning back the clocks; the end of Daylight Savings Time is upon us.
For many this means getting to “sleep in” a bit. The clocks turn back in time, so when the alarm goes off at 6:00am, it feels like 7:00am. That is good news for those individuals whose alarm represents the bane of their existence and waking up is the most painful part of the day, but what about for those who are already plagued by waking up too early?
If you’re used to waking up well before your alarm, say 4:00am, and now the clock will read 3:00am, you may find this time of year particularly stressful. But don’t hit the panic button on your alarm just yet, there are ways to manage this culturally imposed jet lag.
The first thing to keep in mind when the clock strikes 12:00am on the 5th of November is that nothing has actually changed. Sure, your cell phone clock will tell you something different, but your circadian clock is none-the-wiser. You could still go to bed and wake up when you used to, perhaps not even changing the clocks in the house (just don’t be too early for work or they might start expecting it!). Over time, as your meals and your activity level line up with the wall clock during the day, your circadian clock will naturally drift in the direction of alignment.
If you want to spur the process along, you could also stay up “later” than what used to be your bed time, knowing that during the first few days you may find it hard to sleep until your alarm and may be a little under-slept. You can maximize your likelihood of sleeping until your alarm sounds by exposing yourself to a bit of bright light during the hour leading up to your bedtime — sitting and reading under a 100-watt bulb should do the trick. The bright light shifts your melatonin profile forward a bit, making it more likely for you to stay asleep later. Try not to use electronic devices for the hour leading up to bed, not because of the light, but because of the constant alerts, work emails, news stories, social media notifications, and cat videos, which mentally stimulate us and therefore decrease our ability to drift off into a peaceful sleep.
If you do find yourself awake before your alarm, try to keep your light exposure and activity level low until the alarm goes off, then start your day. Light, food, and activity cue the circadian rhythm to start at whatever time you first get up and begin your day, so if you start too early you may find yourself awake the next day around the same time. On the other hand, if you enjoy the morning and would like to be up earlier for that 6am yoga class, this is the perfect time of year to start the habit!
If you find yourself struggling to adjust to the time change, you’re not alone. Many people experience difficulties adjusting to daylight savings time in either direction, and according to a 2013 National Geographic poll, 45% of the population would like to do away with it entirely, whereas an online user poll conducted by the National Weather service found that 82% of those polled said the time change was no longer necessary. We are not here to say whether daylight savings time is right or wrong, but we are here to help you adjust to the impacts it has on your sleep.
At The Clinic, we focus on effective treatments to counteract sleep issues that persist all year, not just during Daylight Savings Time. If you struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or are using sleep medications and would like to get off of them, give us a call and our sleep specialists would be happy to help.
Author: Dr. Ty Canning