How to Adjust to Daylight Saving Time, According to a Sleep Expert

Daylight saving time can steal your sleep, but there's a way to avoid that.
Image Credit: Luis Alvarez/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Daylight saving time: The reason you wake up twice a year confused about what time it is and generally just feeling...off. Whether it's "springing forward" in March or "falling back" in November, DST can screw with your sleep schedule. But adjusting to the time change doesn't have to be difficult.

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Unless you're prepared, that is. Instead of letting the time change sneak up on you, follow these tips from a sleep expert in the days leading up to DST to help your body and mind more easily adjust.

Springing Forward

Daylight saving time starts at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March (March 13, 2022), when clocks are set forward and you "lose" an hour of sleep.

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Aside from the fact that you're left with one fewer hour of R&R and time to get things done on Sunday, you'll also probably struggle to go to bed at your normal time.

For instance, if you typically go to bed at 10 p.m., now your body is telling you to stay up until 11 p.m. — and you might do it! Then on Monday, you have to wake up to go to work or school. And that's where the trouble starts, because we're already living in an "incredibly sleep-deprived world," clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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"Losing that hour of sleep is actually worse on an already sleep-deprived brain," Breus says. "The number-one time for motor vehicle accidents is after when we lose an hour of sleep."

It's true: In a January 2020 report in ​Current Biology​, spring daylight saving time increased fatal car accidents by 6 percent, and that uptick lasts for the entire week following the time change. (A full 28 fatal accents might be prevented each year if daylight saving time didn't exist, according to the paper.)

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Not only that, but this time shift can also affect brain function, decreasing energy and alertness, notes a November 2019 paper in ​JAMA Neurology​.

Bottom line: It's not "just an hour," but something that can affect your health and safety in big ways.

How to Adjust to Daylight Saving Time Without Losing Sleep

Because DST is coming for us and is happening — no matter how loud the cries to do away with it — you can take matters into your own hands and try to reduce your burden of exhaustion.

DST can be tough because it creates a misalignment in your circadian rhythm. So, here's what you do: Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night in the four days leading up to daylight saving time, Breus says. It's an entirely practical strategy that he recommends in general, but is especially important if you have kids, to make the transition easier on them, too.

Here's what that might look like if you typically go to bed at 10 p.m.:

  • Wednesday:​ Bedtime at 9:45 p.m.
  • Thursday:​ Bedtime at 9:30 p.m.
  • Friday:​ Bedtime at 9:15 p.m.
  • Saturday:​ Bedtime at 9 p.m.

Inching your sleep schedule backward a bit day-by-day will make adjusting to the time change feel more seamless. It's easier to go to bed 15 minutes earlier than trying to make yourself go to bed at (what feels like) an hour earlier on Sunday night when you're still wired.

Set a nighttime alarm to remind yourself to head to bed, Breus says, and build in some extra time to wind down and get ready.

Make sure you're setting your alarm to wake up 15 minutes earlier as well, otherwise you haven't actually shifted your sleep-wake schedule and you'll still be in for the shock of an early Monday morning.

So if you typically wake up at 6 a.m., here's what time you should set your alarm for daylight saving:

  • Thursday:​ Wake up at 5:45 a.m.
  • Friday:​ Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Saturday:​ Wake up at 5:15 a.m.
  • Sunday:​ Wake up at 6 a.m. (because you've "lost" an hour overnight)

7 Tips to Help You Adjust to DST

Adjusting to daylight saving time can be tricky. Beyond tweaking your bedtime and wake-up times, Breus suggests doing the following to help you make the shift without sacrificing quality sleep:

  1. Make your bedroom dark and cool.​ Block out any early morning light that might disrupt your sleep, and keep the temperature between 60 and 67° F so you can slumber comfortably, per the National Sleep Foundation.
  2. Head outdoors in the early morning.​ Stand outside without sunglasses and look in the general direction of the sun for 15 minutes, Breus says. (For your eye health, don't stare at the sun directly.) Even better if you add in some kind of outdoor exercise, like a walk or jog around the block.
  3. Go barefoot for a bit.​ If the grass or sidewalk isn't too chilly, take off your shoes and stand in your bare feet, Breus says. The technique — called grounding or earthing — may help better regulate your body clock, per a January 2012 paper in the ​Journal of Environmental and Public Health​.
  4. Get some exercise.​ It can improve your sleep quality, Breus says, even if it's just 20 minutes of cardio and some stretching. Just don't do your workout too close to bedtime or you may be too amped to get to sleep.
  5. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.​ Both can disrupt your sleep, Breus says. Aim to nix caffeine after about noon, and if you drink alcohol, keep your intake to a minimum and stop drinking a few hours before bed.
  6. Turn off screens an hour before bed.​ The blue light from devices like your phone or TV can mess with your sleep, per the National Sleep Foundation.
  7. Wind down before sleep.​ This part might look different for everyone, but the point is to create a routine that signals to your body that it's time to hit the hay. Taking a warm shower, reading and/or meditating are all good ways to ease into bedtime.

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Falling Back

Daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. the first Sunday of November (November 6, 2022), when we set our clocks back and "gain" an hour of sleep.

Now you might be thinking: "No big deal. I could use an extra hour of sleep." But your circadian rhythm may not agree. Sleeping in can throw you off just as easily as losing an hour of shut-eye, leading to that fuzzy-headed feeling in the morning and several nights of uneasy, inconsistent zzzs.

But easing into the change can help, Breus says. If your schedule allows it, try bumping your bedtime later in 15-minute intervals leading up to the big day. So, if you normally go to bed at 10 p.m. and get up at 6 a.m., try this:

  • Wednesday:​ Bedtime at 10:15 p.m.
  • Thursday:​ Bedtime at 10:30 p.m.
  • Friday:​ Bedtime at 10:45 p.m.
  • Saturday:​ Bedtime at 11 p.m.

Then, make sure you're setting your alarm 15 minutes later each day, so you're not losing any sleep:

  • Thursday:​ Wake up at 6:15 a.m.
  • Friday:​ Wake up at 6:30 a.m.
  • Saturday:​ Wake up at 6:45 a.m.
  • Sunday:​ Wake up at 6 a.m. (because you "gained" an hour overnight)

Of course, this might not be possible if you have morning obligations. In that case, try adjusting to the time change after DST has ended with the following schedule:

  • Sunday:​ Wake up at 5 a.m., bedtime at 9 p.m.
  • Monday:​ Wake up at 5:15 a.m., bedtime at 9:15 p.m.
  • Tuesday:​ Wake up at 5:30 a.m., bedtime at 9:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday:​ Wake up at 5:45 a.m., bedtime at 9:45 p.m.
  • Thursday:​ Wake up at 6 a.m., bedtime at 10 p.m. (back on schedule)

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