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March 7, 2016

Your Daylight Savings Time Survival Guide

by Amanda MacMillan

Daylight Savings Time

At 2 a.m. this Sunday, your clocks will “spring forward” an hour, kicking off Daylight Saving Time. The upside: You’ll get some extra sunlight in the evening for the next several months. The downside: You’ll almost certainly lose an hour of sleep Sunday night. And depending on how early you have to get up in the morning, it may be pitch black when you rise for a couple of weeks.

For most people, adjusting to the change isn’t hard. “It’s like flying from Chicago to New York,” says Saul Rothenberg, PhD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at Northwell Health. “Good sleepers may not even notice a difference.” But if you’re sensitive to time changes or sleep disruptions, you could have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning, at least for the first few days. If that’s the case, here are some dos and don’ts that can help.

Don’t sleep in on Sunday. You may have a habit of grabbing a little extra sleep on Sundays, especially if you stay up late Saturday night. But the time change makes it easy to overdo it. Say you don’t set your alarm—it’s Sunday, after all—and let yourself wake up naturally when your body feels like it’s about 9 am. With the time change, it’s actually already 10 am! Suddenly, you’ve slept so late that you may find it hard come evening to get to bed at your usual time. To make sure you’re rested for work on Monday, it’s best to lose that hour of sleep right away on Saturday night.

Don’t nap. Biologically, your bedtime just became an hour earlier than you’re used to. So it’s normal to not feel as tired as you normally would at, say, 10 pm. Napping on Sunday afternoon may make it even harder to fall asleep when you’re supposed to. Instead of a mid-day snooze, fit in a good workout or a long walk: Daytime exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality at night.

Do listen to your body. If you’re not tired at your regular bedtime for the first few nights after the time change, don’t force yourself to lie in bed awake. “Just go to bed a little bit later for a day or two,” says Rothenberg. “Humans are very good in the short-run at compensating for an hour less sleep. Over a couple of days, that sleep loss will translate into getting sleepier at night, so it’s easier to get back on track.”

Do get some morning light. You’re temporarily getting up an hour earlier than you’re used to, so it’s normal to feel extra sleepy when your alarm goes off. The best way to acclimate your body to its new schedule is to get natural light as early as possible. (Sunlight shuts down the brain’s production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.) Throw open your bedroom curtains as the sun comes up, eat breakfast by a sunny window or spend a few minutes walking outside before work.

Don’t fret. Follow these simple steps and you should breeze through the time change with minimal disruption. “The key here is not to worry,” says Rothenberg, “because worrying can have a bigger effect on your sleeping than the change in your clock.” And if you do experience sleep problems that last more than a few weeks—after the time change or at any time during the year—talk to your doctor about healthy ways to make things right.