Every March and November, my inbox floods with emails from folks asking how to ease into the time change and, as a sleep specialist, it’s my job to reassure them. Generally, I find “springing forward” is easier than falling back for two reasons: (1) We are waking up an hour later for this time change instead of an hour earlier in the fall. (2) We get more evening light to enjoy after school and work.
However, there are challenges with the onset of daylight saving time, as with any time change. The clocks may simply shift forward, but your “body clock” will not. Your biological rhythm of hormone release that determines when you feel sleepy and when you feel alert, syncs with the natural 24-hour cycle of day and night. Your body’s natural intelligence is quite adaptable to seasonal shifts in light but it responds much slower to changes than the hands of a clock. Essentially, it’s like the entire country waking up with an hour of jet lag Sunday morning.
This change in our body clock is hard any time of year, but when clocks spring forward, we lose an hour of precious sleep. Yes, you heard me; we lose an hour of sleep as the clock goes from 1:59 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday morning, skipping the 2 a.m. hour altogether. This can lead to serious sleep debt for people who already have a sleep deficit (getting fewerthan the seven to nine hours of sleep you need each night). Those who have a long commute or who work long shifts will likely feel that missing hour for a week or so.
Knowing how important sleep is to our mental, emotional and physical well-being, it’s helpful to think ahead and use this weekend to prevent potential pitfalls. Here are my suggestions for adults, teens and kids to spring forward with greater ease.
Stock up on sleep before the change so that losing an hour Sunday won’t affect you as dramatically. Give yourself 10 hours in bed so that you can be sure you’re getting the seven to nine hours needed to feel rested. Allow yourself to sleep in on Sunday as late as possible and plan to spend the following weekend catching up on sleep as well.
My prescription for young adults is to prioritize sleep: Go to bed before midnight and don’t make any plans on Saturday or Sunday mornings so that you can sleep in as long as your body needs to. This may need to be repeated for a few weekends to feel fully caught up.
Because young adults require more sleep (a full eight to 10 hours) and have a delayed sleep schedule, it can be hard to get the sleep they need day to day. A normal sleep pattern for young adults is to feel sleepy between 10 p.m. and midnight, then to sleep until 8 or 9 a.m. Teens who sleep in until noon on weekends are not lazy, they are paying back the sleep debt they accumulated during the week, when their alarm wakes them to go to school after only six or seven hours of rest.
Most children will adjust easier if you “split the difference” between the old time and the new time. On Sunday, let your child sleep as late as they want to in the morning. It may seem like a full hour later than normal when they wake up. If your child has a strong body clock, it could take two or three weeks to transition back to their normal morning wake time.
Then, you will want to extend naps and bedtime 30 minutes later than normal. I know that seems strange, but hear me out: If “lights out” is normally 7 p.m., it can be 7:30 for several days (which really feels like 6:30 p.m. to your child’s brain and body, right?). This allows their body clock to slowly adjust to this new time. In five to seven days, you can shift back to a 7 p.m. bedtime and it will feel like the new normal. Alternatively, you could stay at the new 7:30 time and enjoy the extra evening light headed our way.
If you have a child younger than 5 and you need more detailed support around this transition, feel free to check out my resources for infants and toddlers on my website.
For all ages, stay consistent with your routines around sleep: Put down your screens an hour before bedtime and consider hanging up light-blocking curtains or using a sleep mask to help your body’s natural release of melatonin. Supporting solid sleep habits during this time change takes effort, but your body and brain will thank you.
Petterson lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and mindful parenting educator. She can be contacted via her website at www.kristinepetterson.com.