How to Power Through a Time Change Like a Pro
Whether the clock is springing forward or falling back, time changes can be a shock to your system. It’s not just about having an extra hour of daylight or darkness; changing the clock can be detrimental to your health. Hospitals see a 24% uptick in heart attacks when Daylight Savings Time begins in the spring, with a 21% dip after it ends in the fall. Researchers observe an increase in fatal car accidents associated with both time changes.
What’s going on? Light is the primary signal our internal clocks—our circadian rhythms—use to tell us when to wake up and go to sleep, among other functions. Move the hour hand, and the sleep cycle we’ve sunk into over the last several months is thrown off course. It can take weeks for our bodies to adjust to this disruption, leading to drowsy days and restless nights. Maybe Arizona and Hawaii are on to something?
Since time changes are a reality for most of us, here are tips to help you power through time changes like a pro while maintaining a healthy level of productivity.
1. Stick to your sleep schedule
We all know how important getting enough sleep is, but time changes can sidetrack even the best snoozing habits. As hard as it may be to roll out of bed when it’s still dark outside, “gaining” an hour in the fall doesn’t mean you should stay up an hour later than normal. Stick to your regular sleep schedule, hitting the sack and getting up at the same time every day.
If you’re especially affected by time changes, one trick you can try is to adjust your sleep schedule ever so slightly in the days leading up to a time change. For example, in the fall, try going to bed 15 minutes later and rising 15 minutes later than normal. This will prime your body for having an extra hour on the clock.
2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
Don’t be tempted by that nightcap or cup of cappuccino before you hit the hay. While alcohol can make you feel tired, the sleep you get can be anything but restful. Studies show that alcohol can interrupt REM sleep and can cause you to wake more frequently throughout the night. Aim to enjoy your last cocktail at least a few hours before bed, time change or not.
You may find yourself chugging coffee if you’re feeling tired after the clocks change, but caffeine and other stimulants like nicotine can also negatively impact sleep. Stop caffeine consumption at least four hours before bed (increase this time if you are particularly sensitive to its effects).
3. Watch what you eat
What and when you eat can have a major impact on your overall health. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who ate close to bedtime gained more weight and experienced impaired fat metabolization compared to those who stopped eating four hours earlier. Gaining an hour doesn’t mean you should eat dinner an hour later—aim to consume the majority of your calories earlier in the day and avoid chowing down close to bedtime.
There are foods you can eat to foster good sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends consuming almonds and walnuts, which are high in melatonin, and other sleep-supporting foods.
4. Find time for sunshine
Shorter days can affect more than just your sleep: less daylight can impact your mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression associated with the changing seasons, most commonly in the fall and winter, according to the Mayo Clinic. SAD can make you feel sluggish, moody and agitated and can lead to oversleeping and weight gain.
Even if you don’t have SAD, the fall and winter months can still drag you down. Try to get as much sunshine as possible or give light therapy a try. Both of these can help regulate your circadian rhythm and keep serotonin and melatonin levels in balance. Of course, you should always consult your doctor if your winter blues persist or worsen.
5. Get active
Exercising regularly is a good habit to have throughout the year, but it can be especially beneficial during a time change. Physical activity helps keep your internal rhythms humming and can lead to better sleep. Just like your sleep schedule, try to exercise at the same time you did before the time change to help your body adjust more quickly.
While you should aim to carve out at least 20 minutes to work out every day, that’s not always practical. Do what you can—go for a walk during lunch, play with your kids or dog, stand up from your desk and stretch at regular intervals. Some movement is better than none at all.
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No matter how you tackle a time change, try to be kind to yourself and those around you. Everyone is experiencing clock shock, so be patient and remember, it’s only temporary.
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