Don’t Let the Fall Time Change Disrupt Your Sleep-Wake Cycle

5 tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene year-round

A man sleeps on his side in bed with sun beams lighting his face.

5 tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene year-round

With the first Sunday in November quickly approaching, it’s time to brush up on your sleep hygiene. The end of Daylight Saving Time isn’t quite as disruptive as its start in the spring, but setting the clocks back can still wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm. 

“One hour can throw you off for a good couple of weeks,” says Derek Harry Loewy, PhD, a sleep medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic.

Though we’re gaining an hour of precious sleep in the morning, it behooves you to hit the hay a bit later to compensate. Dr. Loewy recommends that people start prepping for the time change a week to 10 days out. Start moving your and your kids’ bedtimes forward gradually in the days before the switch, by 10 to 15 minutes each night. 

“The morning will kind of take care of itself; it's all about making the adjustment on the bedtime side,” says Dr. Loewy. “In anticipation of the change, you want to get your body rhythm in a position to adapt smoothly.”

Melatonin plays role in sleep

Another thing that can help your body adapt is getting a little extra light later in the day. The release of the hormone melatonin determines when a person naturally falls asleep at night. Melatonin usually begins signaling that it’s time to wind down about an hour or so before bed, but light — ideally sunlight, but any bright interior light will do — can push this further out.

“If your goal is to delay sleepiness leading up to the change, lots of light late in the evening has a suppressive effect on melatonin,” says Dr. Loewy. 

Sunlight-mimicking lamps are very effective in delaying the release of melatonin and altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, but they can be costly. They’re probably not crucial for a one-hour time shift, but these special lights can help those who have chronic sleep irregularities that impede on their everyday lives, such as extreme night owls.  

5 tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene

A good bedtime routine can go a long way regardless of the time of year. These tips from Dr. Loewy will help you make the most out of bedtime, anytime. 

1. Be consistent

Try to have a regular evening routine leading up to bedtime. Whether that’s watching your favorite stress-free shows, taking a bath, or having a light snack, find activities that will signal your body that it’s time to wind down. Designate a set bedtime (and wakeup time, since this is the start of the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle) and stick with it as best you can, though a few minutes earlier or later here or there probably won’t hurt. 

2. Ditch the devices

Limit light from screens in the last 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

3. Limit caffeine later in the day

Caffeine has a fairly long half-life, meaning it stays in your system for quite a while. Cut off your caffeine intake after lunch. 

4. Skip happy hour

Alcohol can make you feel sleepy at first, but it also metabolizes quickly, which has an arousal effect and can lead to restless nights.

5. Talk to your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sleeping

They can recommend a natural approach, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia, or medication.

The cover of San Diego Health magazine.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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