Don’t Let Fall Make You Fall Behind on Sleep

Tips for staying well-rested when the clocks change

Those of us who are still awake in the early morning hours of Sunday, November 4 will experience a moment of déjà vu when the clock strikes 1 am for a second time. At 2 am, we turn our clocks back an hour, and are rewarded with an extra hour in our day.

It is the official ending of Daylight Savings Time – we now have earlier sunrises, but one less hour of daylight in the evening. The reaction to earlier sunsets varies from person to person. Some are merely annoyed that it’s now dark before they leave the office, while others experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of seasonal depression associated with the decrease in daylight. For many, sleep schedules go awry as they adjust to an earlier onset of darkness. 

Effects on Sleep Schedules 

Naturally, most people begin to feel drowsy as the sky darkens. That’s due to our bodies’ circadian rhythms – our internal clocks – keeping us alert or making us drowsy at certain points in the day. The body responds to nighttime by signaling the brain to release melatonin, a hormone that makes us ready for sleep.

However, there are steps you can take to adjust your circadian rhythm and make sure that the time change doesn’t negatively affect your sleep schedule. Here are some tips from the sleep experts at Novant Health UVA Health System.

  1. Get as much sunlight as possible. Spending time in the outdoors, especially in the afternoon can lead to a better night’s sleep. Bright, natural light helps the brain recognize it’s daytime and will put off production of melatonin. A light box that simulates sunshine can also be used. 
  2. Get moving. Incorporating light exercise into your routine later in the day will help keep you energized until it’s time for your desired bedtime. Instead of “resting your eyes” after dinner, go for a walk or take care of household chores that keep your brain alert and your heart rate elevated.
  3. Turn up the heat. With winter approaching, this is one piece of advice that you’re likely already following. Cool environments lead to a drop in body temperature, which at a certain point triggers the body to produce melatonin. That’s why people often sleep best in slightly cool rooms. To help avoid the early onset of melatonin secretion, keep the temperature of your home comfortable and relatively warm.
  4. Stick to a bedtime schedule. Do your best to turn in at your regular bedtime, particularly in the days immediately after Daylight Savings Time ends. Find ways to keep your brain stimulated until about an hour before you plan to turn out the lights. Concentrating on a puzzle, playing a simple game or journaling can help keep your mind active and away from thoughts of hopping into bed. Another tactic: set an alarm for starting your nightly routine to make sure you don’t brush and floss until just before bed.
  5. Combat morning grogginess. If you are a deep sleeper or just can’t get enough of it, suddenly waking up an hour earlier than usual can feel like a nightmare. To combat morning grogginess, establish a routine that energizes you. Get yourself up and into the shower or out the door for a morning run to wake up.
  6. Eat energizing foods and caffeinate if you must.Caffeine – in healthy doses – can be a wonderful thing. If the darkness really affects you and you’re concerned about dozing off midway through dinner, try having your morning cup of coffee closer to lunchtime. Snacking on fruit or a small amount of dark chocolate fuels your body with healthier sugars that won’t lead to a crash later in the afternoon. Balancing your meals with carbohydrates for quick energy, and protein-packed foods for long-lasting energy is another great way to keep your energy levels up all day long.

Still having difficulty maintaining a healthy sleep schedule? Speak with your primary care physician or consult a sleep specialist. To learn more about Novant Health UVA Health system sleep health services, visit www.novanthealthuva.org/services/sleep-health.aspx.

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