It's that time of the year again. The time when we spring forward and move our clocks an hour ahead. Daylight Saving Time has arrived for most people in the United States, but are you ready for the adjustment?
According to experts, permanent Daylight Saving Time may have a negative impact on our health. Pediatrician Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington, warns that the sudden change can catch us off guard.
Not everyone has to follow the time change, however. Residents of Hawaii, most of Arizona, and US territories in the Pacific and Caribbean don't have to adjust their clocks.
If you're someone who struggles with adjusting to the time change, experts suggest gradually shifting your sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each day for at least four days prior to the change. Sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, from the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, advises planning ahead to help minimize the impact on your body's circadian rhythms.
It's not just about your sleep schedule, though. To make the transition easier, consider adjusting other daily routines that serve as time cues for your body, such as meals, exercise, and medications. Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommends starting the prep work ahead of time, especially for teenagers and night owls.
If you haven't had a chance to prepare, don't worry. Dr. Dasgupta assures us that it's never too late to start. Remember, sleep is individualized, and everyone will react differently to the time change. Take care of yourself so you're not overly irritable with others, especially your children.
Shifting Bed Times
According to experts, younger children tend to adjust better to time changes compared to adults and older children. Pediatrician Dr. Cora Collette Breuner suggests that younger children may need less time to adapt to the change. She recommends shifting their bedtime and wake time by 10 to 15 minutes earlier starting three days before the time change to help them adjust to the new schedule.
If the preparation didn't happen, expect some grumpiness from your child until their body adjusts, and be prepared to be more forgiving, says sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta. He suggests cutting your child some slack in the days following Daylight Saving Time, as they may be more irritable than usual.
To make the transition smoother for children, Dr. Breuner suggests laying out clothes and packing up homework the night before to reduce stress in the morning. It's also helpful to pack a to-go breakfast in case everyone is running late. That way, children can snack on the bus or in the car instead of sitting down for a full breakfast when they're feeling disoriented.
Another tip from Dr. Breuner is to avoid letting children nap during the day as it can prolong the adjustment period. By following these tips, parents and caregivers can help make the transition to Daylight Saving Time easier for children.
The emerging lightness in the morning can be beneficial for the entire family, as it signals the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. Sleep specialist Dr. Phyllis Zee recommends getting 20 to 30 minutes of morning-bright light exposure soon after waking up. Increasing exposure to bright light at home, school, and work throughout the morning can also help with adaptation to the new time, especially for teenagers and night owls.
It's also important to avoid exposure to electronic devices that emit blue light, as it can interfere with melatonin production. Pediatrician Dr. Cora Collette Breuner recommends creating a "real hard rule" about keeping devices such as televisions, smartphones, laptops, and gaming devices out of the bedroom. Devices should be turned off and charged in another room, such as the kitchen.
When it comes to teenagers, Breuner advises against using the phone as an alarm clock, as it can interfere with sleep. Instead, teens should use a regular alarm clock or an iPod to listen to music. Not getting enough restful sleep can have serious consequences, especially for children struggling with depression or anxiety. Breuner emphasizes that the likelihood of worse behavioral health outcomes is higher if a child is not getting enough restful sleep.
Dark at Night
The same principles about light apply to the evening, but in reverse. Sleep specialist Dr. Phyllis Zee recommends avoiding bright light for at least three hours before bedtime. This allows your body's melatonin levels to rise and promote sleep.
To promote better sleep, it's also essential to create a dark and cool environment in your bedroom. Dr. Zee suggests using light-blocking shades or curtains to minimize light exposure from outside. Keep lights in the bedroom dim and choose LED lights with more reddish or brownish tones. Ban any blue spectrum lights from the bedroom, such as those emitted by electronic devices like televisions, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Blue light is the most stimulating type of light, which can trick the brain into thinking it's time to wake up.
It's also important to keep the bedroom cool and dark to promote better sleep. Even when your eyelids are shut, light can still creep in, as demonstrated in a 2022 study conducted by Dr. Zee. The study showed that sleeping for just one night with a dim light, such as a TV set with the sound off, raised blood sugar levels and heart rate, even when eyes were closed during sleep.
Dr. Zee's research has also found that exposure to any amount of light during sleep is associated with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension in older men and women. Therefore, it's essential to create a dark and cool environment in your bedroom to promote better sleep and reduce the risk of these health issues.