How the 'fall-back' time change can hurt your sleep
Turning the clocks back an hour doesn't automatically mean more sleep. Here’s why
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Spring forward, fall back. If you live in the United States (well, most of it) you do each once a year. This Sunday, we fall back—meaning when 2 AM strikes on November 3, the clock rolls back to 1 AM, making that day 25 hours long instead of 24.
In theory, switching back to standard time means you get an extra hour of sleep, which is generally an improvement over losing that hour come springtime. “Turning the clock back ('Fall Back') is generally easier than when we return to Daylight Saving Time in March ('Spring Forward'),” says Mary Helen Rogers, a representative for the Better Sleep Council. “[But] for both seasons, the time change can temporarily disrupt your circadian rhythm—the internal body clock that controls your natural cycle of sleepiness and alertness—which can lead to days of fatigue, limited productivity and difficulty concentrating.” Kids, who thrive on routine, are especially affected. Not only that, the sunrise moves earlier in the day—a boon to early birds—but the night starts earlier, too, which can mean extra-short days for those who sleep later. Here’s what you can do to make the adjustment better for everyone.
Don’t assume the extra hour means you’ll get more sleep
By gaining that extra hour in the middle of the night, you may assume that you’ll bank extra ZZZs. But for many people, this isn’t the case. “When we ‘fall back’ an hour, not everyone actually gets the extra hour of sleep,” says Terry Cralle, MS, RN, and Better Sleep Council spokesperson. “During [that night and] the following week, many people wake up earlier, have more trouble falling asleep, and are more likely to wake up during the night.”
Maintain your normal sleep habits
When it gets darker earlier, you may feel sleepier than usual, even an hour or two before your normal pre-time change bedtime. Though it may be tempting to give in and nod off, Rogers says to stick as close as you can to your typical routine. “Make a plan and stick to it, don’t go to bed too early or overindulge during that extra hour,” she says. “Your body will feel it is going to bed too early.” Going to bed at your usual time makes it more likely that you’ll sleep through the night and wake up at your normal hour, rather than waking up throughout the night or way too early. And being consistent, in turn, may help shorten your overall adjustment time.
To make this easier, Rogers suggests taking extra care to maintain proper “sleep hygiene,” or your everyday habits and routines that impact your sleep quality at night. This includes turning off all electronic devices about an hour before you go to bed, avoiding long daytime naps, and getting some movement in at some point during the day. You’ll also want to avoid eating an hour before your bedtime and exercising two hours before, both of which can signal to your body that it’s time to get the day started—the opposite of what you want.
Expect an adjustment period and plan accordingly
It takes most people about five to seven days to adjust to the time change, but it can take up to two weeks for some. If you are an early riser or usually sleep less than 7.5 hours a night—a group of people that sleep experts often refer to as “larks”—you may experience more difficulty getting used to the time change than other people. Workplace injuries, strokes, heart attacks, and car crashes have all been proven to increase after a daylight savings time change, both in fall and spring. “Keep in mind that as a result of the change to your sleep schedule, the ‘fall back’ time change may leave you feeling less alert and feeling jet-lagged,” says Cralle. “Even a slight decrement in performance, combined with earlier darkness and or staying up later, may lead to car accidents.” To cope, try to take it easy for the week after falling back, and be extra-vigilant behind the wheel.
Do a bedroom checkup
Rogers says the time change is a great time to take stock of your bedroom to ensure it’s actually a place where you can get quality sleep each night. You want to make sure your bedroom is dark, cool (somewhere between 65 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit), and clutter-free.
If those are in order, you may want to reevaluate your mattress, too—especially if you’ve had it for seven years or more. “A mattress really is the foundation of a great night’s sleep, because it’s what gets you through the night so you can feel refreshed the next day,” Rogers says. “After several years of use, though, your mattress may not provide you with the proper support you need for quality sleep. If it has visible signs of overuse (rips, holes, visible tearing, etc.) or you’re constantly waking up with aches and pains, then you may want to consider replacing it.”
Help younger kids get with the program
If you have a child in the house, be aware that they may have a more difficult time adjusting than adults to the time change. “Any change in bedtimes affects children of all ages,” says Cralle. “The disruption in a child’s sleep pattern from daylight saving time can negatively impact mood, school performance, and behavior.”
If yours is young enough to have an easily enforced bedtime, Cralle suggests moving it back later in small increments—about 10 to 15 minutes each night—in the week leading up to falling back. You can also move it by about 20 to 25 minutes the night before and night of falling back, respectively. If your child still has trouble adjusting, you may want to look into a sleep trainer clock. This is a clock that has separate displays for nighttime and daytime, and can help serve as a visual cue for kids to learn when it’s time to go to sleep or start the day.
Cut sleep-starved teens some slack
Teens, who are already typically sleep deprived without the added effect of a time change, may feel especially groggy (and cranky) in the week or two after falling back. “Too many teens fail to get sufficient sleep on a consistent basis,” says Cralle. “With any clock change, sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to have mood swings and struggle in several areas, including learning, risk-taking, memory, and more.”
Dealing with this is easier said than done—often teens lack sleep because of schoolwork, extracurriculars, and early school start times—but try to encourage them not to use the “extra” hour as an excuse to stay up late. If they’re of driving age, you’ll want to be extra sure that they’re getting their sleep, as drowsy driving can increase the likelihood of crashes for teens.
Products to try
A few good supplies can make the transition easier and improve your sleep habits in general.
1. An alarm clock that mimics the sun to wake you
If you normally take measures to sleep in pitch darkness, you probably know the flip-side struggle of energizing yourself out of bed when there’s no sunlight creeping in. To make getting up easier, the Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock gradually brings you back to alertness with a glowing light and your choice of five different wake-up sounds or a radio. If it’s your child who is having trouble adjusting, the LittleHippo sleep trainer clock cues them by glowing yellow a half-hour before wake-up time and glowing green when it’s officially time to hop out of bed.
2. A programmable coffee maker so your cup of joe is ready before you wake
Waking up is light years easier when you smell fresh coffee brewing in your home. One of our favorite programmable drip coffee makers, the Cuisinart 14-Cup, allows you to program your coffee for any hour of the day and keeps your brew warm on days you're a little behind schedule with an adjustable temperature control that shuts off after a few hours.
3. A contoured sleep mask to block out light
If you're the type who wakes up with the dawn (but don't need to) or you're always pulling your blankets up over your face to block out any light in your room, you need a sleep mask. The Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask came out on top of our tests because it's like blackout curtains for the eyes. The memory foam mask is contoured and it's adjustable with a velcro strap, so there's no unpleasant pressure on your lids.
4. A sound machine to help you drift to sleep quicker
Noisy neighbors, a restless pet, or even too much quiet are all things that make falling asleep challenging, especially when your sleep cycle is thrown off by the time change. To combat them, we recommend a sound machine, like this one from Adaptive Sound Technologies. The machine offers 10 sound categories, each with three different "richness" settings that allow you to tweak the sound slightly.
5. A comfortable, customizable pillow for just the right support
Short of getting a new mattress, there is one way to ensure you're setting yourself up for the best night's sleep: A quality pillow. Our favorite after testing is the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow, which comes "overstuffed" with the ability to remove some of the bamboo shredded memory foam to customize your comfort. This pillow molds to your neck and head, making you feel supported for a great night's sleep.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.