Sleep well during daylight saving time: Adjust your body clocks

By Julie Jordan
Published March 9, 2019

Most people are caught off guard by daylight saving time each spring. It interrupts the normal daily routine—especially sleep. When we move the clock one hour forward, our body clocks (or biological clocks) are scrambling to adjust. The circadian rhythms that dictate when certain body processes occur each day are disrupted.

Like adjusting to the change while traveling between time zones, when daylight saving time begins this Sunday, March 10 at 2 a.m., will your body clocks be ready?

A master clock in your brain’s hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, receives direct input from your eyes about light and coordinates all your biological clocks in sync with the sun. Your biological clocks are innate timing devices made up of proteins throughout your body. These clocks create and maintain your body’s circadian rhythms—physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily, 24-hour cycle. Sleep at night and wakefulness during the day is a light-related circadian rhythm.

Because daylight influences circadian rhythms the most, changing your light-dark cycles can speed up, slow down or reset your body clocks and circadian rhythms. This is the main reason we feel off after resetting our clocks for daylight saving time.

On Saturday night, when you spring forward one hour before bed, you will lose one hour of sleep, and your body clocks and circadian rhythms will have to adjust. Some will adjust within a couple of days and others will need longer. The more you struggle to sleep now, the more difficult the adjustment will be. To make the adjustment easier, consider the following advice from the Cleveland Clinic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Go to bed a half hour earlier tonight to help prepare your body for the hour you will lose Saturday night.  
  • Wake up early enough to get some bright light to help you start your day.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, relaxing and a comfortable temperature.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  • Limit naps. Short naps (no more than 20 minutes) can be helpful, but long naps are a sign of sleep deprivation and underlying health issues.
  • Say no to alcohol and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime.

Remember, one benefit of getting a longer, sunnier evening is being able to spend it outside. Use the extra daylight to exercise outdoors, and your mental health, heart and sleep will all benefit.