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A Doctor’s Tips for ‘Springing Forward’

clock on nightstand
Neha Pathak, MD - Blogs
By Neha Pathak, MDBoard-certified internistMarch 02, 2018

Daylight saving time is around the corner. If you’re like me (I hit snooze at least twice!), losing an hour of much-needed sleep really hurts!

But can losing one hour of sleep really be that bad? Unfortunately, for many of us, the answer is yes. Over 1/3 of Americans are already living in a state of sleep deprivation. So when our sleep cycles are disturbed even more in the days after daylight saving time, it can make us (and our kids) go from bad to worse.

Sunlight has a big effect on the internal clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake (our circadian rhythm). It helps us wake up by decreasing our levels of “sleep hormone”, called melatonin; darkness, on the other hand, increases melatonin levels, setting us up for sleep. When we “spring forward,” we’ll actually have less light in the morning and more at night, which can throw off our circadian rhythm.

I’m determined to keep daylight saving time from throwing me for a loop this year, so I’ve decided to take some proactive steps to prepare myself.

Here’s my plan:

  • Start now: Figure out how much sleep you need to feel your best in the morning – is it after seven hours of sleep? Nine hours? Whatever your personal sleep requirement is, start getting that much shut-eye now. I am an 8-hour-a-night sleeper who has to be up by 6am. So I’ve got to get myself in bed, lights out, by 10pm.
  • Take baby steps: Starting four days before daylight savings, go to bed AND wake up 15 minutes earlier each day. For me, this means lights out at 9:45pm on the Wednesday before daylight saving, 9:30pm on Thursday, and so on until DST-Day! This also means waking up 15 minutes earlier each morning and NOT hitting snooze. (I’m not looking forward to this part—but it really helps!) If you have children, use the same plan for the kids. They are even more sensitive to sleep reduction, so follow the plan for all nap times and at bedtime.
  • Be careful with caffeine: Though you might feel like you need it the first few days after the switch to daylight saving time, limit your caffeine consumption to morning hours. I usually put a hard stop on caffeinated tea or coffee at 2pm.
  • Use light wisely: We know that light affects our melatonin levels – and that includes sunlight and light from our screens. When it’s morning, open the curtains and turn on lights. At night, darken your room (and your children’s room) as much as possible. We use black out curtains and no screen time 2 hours before bed.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: Create a daily sleep routine for you and your kids. And when it’s time to wake up, get up! Do whatever it takes to NOT hit snooze. I’m starting to put my phone (my alarm clock) on the other side of the room, so that I’ll be forced to get out of bed.
  • Stick to the script: Once you’ve made these changes, stick with them. Of course, we may not be able to do this every night, but try your best to stick with these healthy sleep habits.

This time around, let daylight-savings time be your wake up call to get more sleep instead of less.

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About the Author
Neha Pathak, MD

Neha Pathak, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and part of WebMD's team of medical editors responsible for ensuring the accuracy of health information on the site. Before joining WebMD, Pathak worked as a primary care physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs and was an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

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