While we all “sprung forward” today with daylight-saving time (DST), you might feel like you took a couple of steps back. DST forces us to abruptly adjust our natural 24-hour circadian clock, which regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Light exposure cues wakefulness, in other words, if it’s light out, we tend to be awake. But if you are like me and woke up in the dark this morning, you might feel especially groggy.
This change in light/dark, brought on by DST, can wreak havoc in areas you might not expect. Studies show that there is an increase in car accidents the week after DST, worker productivity is down, and there is an increase in the incidences of a heart attack or stroke. A December 2016 study even showed that judges dole out 5% longer jail sentences the week after DST! (1).
So how can you help your body adjust?
1) Go to bed a little earlier for a few nights before. Let your body gradually adjust back 10-15 minutes each night the week before DST.
2) Prioritize sleep. Sleep isn’t just “down time.” It’s critical to our health and wellbeing. Those who are chronically sleep deprived are more at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. And it’s not just adults—sleep-deprived kids tend to be heavier than their well-rested counterparts.
3) Cut the caffeine. It takes 12 hours for your body to metabolize caffeine fully. It’s tempting to reach for extra java to stay awake today, but be mindful that you shouldn’t overdo it, and certainly not in the afternoon and evening.
4) Consider a short nap. A short, 20-minute “power nap” can go a long way in helping you refresh. Be careful, though; a more extended rest can make sleep elusive at night. It's no coincidence that National Napping Day is tomorrow, March 11th, although you might want to wait until after work to catch some shut eye.
5) Get some exercise. Those who exercise sleep better than those who don’t. Plus, you can go out later to take a walk since there will still be daylight!
Just like jet-lag, it takes a few days to adjust, but rest-assured (pun intended), you will!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I could use a nap.
(1) Cho, K., Barnes, C. and Guanara, C. (2017). Sleepy Punishers Are Harsh Punishers. Psychological Science, 28(2), pp.242-247.