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Published March 9, 2022
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Twice a year people across 74 countries experience time travel. In the US, people whisper to themselves “Spring forward, fall back” like a quiet chant to recall which direction they’re going on the second Sunday of March, when the clocks move an hour ahead, and on the first Sunday of November, when time winds an hour back.
This year daylight saving time (DST) will start at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 13, in the US. Waking up and falling asleep can be hard enough as it is—the added challenge of darker mornings, brighter evenings, and jet-lag-like symptoms make the undertaking that much more difficult. The DST shift is more than just that, though: By moving one hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, you’re disrupting your circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that’s governed by your body’s internal clock, for the full eight months everyone is on DST.
The jump to DST creates a gap between your body clock, which responds to the sun, and your social clock, which is set by humans. “This mismatch in our biological clock and our environment leads to a number of non-optimal situations in our health,” Joseph Takahashi, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says. And sleep is only one area that the shift to DST can disrupt: After the spring shift, car accidents, heart attacks, and ischemic strokes spike, too.
If the shift throws you off, it probably won’t make you feel better to be reminded that daylight saving time was created largely for economic reasons, to sell more gasoline, golf clubs, gardening tools, and the like. In the short term, it’s simply not pleasant to lose an hour, wake up in the dark, and start your day feeling just a bit behind. Fortunately, there are some concrete steps you can take to blunt the effect that DST has on your sleep, and many of them are habits that lead to good sleep year-round. The best way to combat the effects of DST on your sleep is to have a good foundation. “If you have excellent sleep hygiene leading up to DST, it’s an easier transition to make,” says Chris Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution.
To make the time jump a little easier on your body, shift both your bedtime and your wake-up time earlier by 15-minute increments in the days leading up to daylight saving time. For example, if you usually go to sleep at 10 p.m., the goal is to reach your new bedtime, at 9 p.m., by the Saturday night before DST starts. To do this, you have to start adjusting your bedtime on the Wednesday the week before DST.
This means shifting other habits earlier, too. Meal timing is important for sleep, says Winter. Eating close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep, as the body is too focused on digesting to wind down for the night. Experts suggest finishing your evening meal at least two hours before bedtime, so as you’re shifting your bedtime up, you should do the same with your dinner schedule.
Although it may seem like common sense not to consume any caffeine before bedtime, simply skipping your post-dinner espresso won’t cut it. Studies suggest that you should avoid caffeine for a minimum of six hours before going to bed.
Then there’s alcohol. As Wirecutter’s Joanne Chen explains in her article on hacking your bedtime routine, alcohol will make you drowsy at first but can ultimately ruin a good night’s sleep. To play it safe, finish drinking several hours before bedtime. Or skip it altogether.
Turning in early is likely to require some active effort and planning. “We have more difficulty adding to our sleep rather than subtracting from it,” Winter says. Implementing things that will help you relax as you get ready for bed can help. A weighted blanket, such as the Bearaby Cotton Napper, one of Wirecutter’s picks, can feel like a giant hug easing you to sleep. A white noise machine, such as Wirecutter’s top pick, the LectroFan EVO, masks intrusive noises that may be keeping you awake. White noise by itself may be relaxing enough to put you out; if not, you might try a meditation app, as our picks have programs specifically designed to lull you to sleep. If listening to white noise or guided meditations through a device or speakers isn’t enough, sleep headphones such as our pick, the AcousticSheep SleepPhones Wireless pair, aren’t painful to lie on but still block out sound and play whatever you want directly into your ears.
Because daylight saving time shifts an hour of sunlight later in the day, you should control the amount of light in your room as you settle in for bed. “In the early evening, light delays our body’s clock, and in the morning, light advances our clock,” Takahashi says. Use an eye mask (we like the Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask) or blackout curtains (the Freemansburg Room Darkening Rod Pocket Single Curtain Panel is our top pick) to block out light. Bird owners cover their pets’ cages to signal nighttime and, subsequently, quiet, and you can use the same principle to trick your brain to sleep. Winter recommends limiting the amount of blue light you’re absorbing. Blue light specifically interferes with the body’s circadian rhythms because blue wavelengths during the day boost mood, attention, and reaction times—all things you need to quiet down as you’re getting ready for bed. Cutting down on screen time helps signal to your body that it’s time to wind down for the day.
Temperature is another trigger for sleep, Winter explains. The optimal bedroom temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. One way you can fool your body into sleepiness is to adjust the temperature a little earlier in the night. If you have a smart thermostat in your home such as the Google Nest Learning Thermostat, you can program it to start cooling down your home (or just the room you sleep in) at earlier hours in the evening. Taking a hot bath or shower before bed can also drop your body temperature quickly and send your system into sleep mode.
The human body is cued to rise with the sun—only now, the sun will be coming out an hour later. To combat the groggy darkness of mornings during DST, the best thing to do is to get light into your room as soon as possible. You can do this by using a sunrise alarm clock such as the Wirecutter-tested Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520, which can shine a dawn-like light directly into your sleepy face.
If getting up out of bed is the problem, you could be attempting to wake up during the worst part of your sleep cycle—deep sleep, as opposed to lighter REM sleep. As Nathaniel Watson, MD, explained to Wirecutter staff writer Dorie Chevlen, setting up an artificial time to wake up may be acting in direct opposition to your body’s rhythm. To address this, you might try using a sleep-tracking app such as the Wirecutter-recommended SleepScore, which can monitor your sleep cycles and wake you at an optimal moment.
If all else fails, push yourself to plant two feet on the ground. Get up and turn on the lights. Place your alarm clock (or phone, because it’s 2022) in a spot that physically forces you to stand to turn it off. Or use an alarm app, such as the Sleep as Android app, that requires you to perform tasks such as walking several steps before letting you turn off the alarm.
One way to get your body clock in tune with the sun is to simply get out into the light. A good dose of sunlight, even if it’s just for 15 minutes first thing in the morning, can help your body wake up and reset for the day ahead.
Exercise is a great way to get out and feel the sun, too. It resets your circadian rhythm and promotes a smoother sleep and wake schedule. A 2019 study showed that exercising either at 7 a.m. or between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. advances the body clock, which makes it easier for you to start your day earlier. Inversely, working out between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. delays the body clock, which can make it harder for you to fall asleep and wake up early the next day. If you’re looking for some help in getting moving, our top meditation app pick, Headspace, has a section dedicated to yoga, dance, and workout videos.
This article was edited by Courtney Schley and Kalee Thompson.
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