It’s no secret that most Americans are sleep deprived. Add Daylight Saving Time to the mix, and even people who get enough shut-eye could have trouble adjusting.
“It’s as if we go to sleep in one time zone and wake up in another one,” says Phillip Cheng, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep research scientist at Henry Ford Health. “And if you already sleep less than the recommended 7 to 8 hours each night, that one-hour loss makes a huge difference.”
Since the national average for sleep duration hovers somewhere around 7 hours each night, most of us will hit the sleep deprivation danger zone when we spring ahead. You might even have trouble concentrating, meeting work deadlines or even keeping up with your kids.
The good news: Even if you don’t prepare for Daylight Saving Time, chances are your body will adjust to the change naturally within 5 to 7 days. But you can speed up the process, and shift your body’s internal clock to match the one on the wall, with Dr. Cheng’s 6 strategies for Daylight Saving Time Success:
- Prioritize zzz’s. Make sure your family is well rested in the days leading up to Daylight Saving Time. The extra rest will act as a buffer when it’s time to “spring ahead.” Those who do best aren’t behind on their sleep when Daylight Saving Time hits.
- Aim for a gradual adjustment. You can prep your body to “spring ahead” with less shock to the system if you move up your waking time in small increments. Set your alarm for 15 to 20 minutes earlier than your norm each day leading up to the clock change. That way, your body has a chance to adjust over time.
- Let in the light. Stepping into the sunlight first thing in the morning (or natural light if it’s cloudy) signals to your body’s natural clock that it’s time to get moving. Similarly, avoiding light when it’s dark outside tells your body it’s time to slow down. Time it right, and you can advance (or delay) your sleep cycle.
- Establish a soothing sleep routine. Ditch computers, tablets, e-readers and other electronics 3 hours before bedtime (the light given off by those devices can interfere with the body’s natural clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep). And plan to start winding down about an hour before lights out. Find something relaxing that you can do in dim light, such as meditating or picking up a non-suspenseful novel. You can even turn on the tube, provided you’re watching something light-hearted, not the 11 o’clock news. (Read more about good sleep habits here.)
- Resist the power nap. Taking a snooze mid-day may be tempting, especially if you’re dragging, but your best bet to adjust quickly is to avoid napping. That way, you’re likely to fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier. Can’t keep your eyes open? Limit yourself to a 20-minute snooze before 2 p.m.
- Limit caffeine. A jolt of caffeine may help your mind focus. Just be aware that it lurks in your system for 6 to 8 hours. So while there’s nothing wrong with sipping a latte to get moving in the morning, you might want to steer clear of caffeine (even in the form of pop or chocolate) after 2 p.m.
But here’s the catch: These strategies only work for people who aren’t suffering from ongoing sleep problems. If you’re concerned about your regular sleeping patterns or if you suffer from insomnia or daytime sluggishness, talk with your doctor.
Dr. Phillip Cheng is a clinical psychologist and sleep research scientist with Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.