Early Sunday morning we turn the clocks back an hour — the annual ritual meant to make the most of our dwindling exposure to the sun as winter nears.
What the end of Daylight Saving Time means for us: We’ll get an extra hour of sleep on Saturday night (technically at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning), but Sunday evening we are likely to feel tired earlier, as the new 10 p.m. will feel like 11 p.m.
For a smooth adjustment, says Alexandre Abreu, M.D., codirector of the University of Miami Sleep Medicine program, don't sleep in on Sunday morning. Get up at the same time that you’ll need to wake up on Monday — or even earlier. “During the day on Sunday, you will feel a little bit sluggish,” Abreu notes, but don’t take a nap. The goal is to be able to fall asleep at a normal time Sunday night and feel rested Monday morning.
Adjusting to time changes gets harder as we age, according to Robert Oexman, a sleep expert and director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Mebane, N.C. “Once we get into our 40s and 50s, our ability to change our circadian clock becomes more difficult.”
“Fall is the worst for older people,” he adds. Many of us already have a tendency to drift off to sleep too early, which can lead to too-early waking and disrupted sleep. That early-evening sleepiness is exacerbated at this darker time of year. (The lack of light shuts down our bodies’ production of serotonin, the mood-regulating chemical that affects alertness.)
But Oexman says, there are ways to change your routine during the shorter days of winter “so you’re not falling asleep at seven o’clock at night and then finding yourself awake at three in the morning.”
His advice for establishing a healthy sleep schedule:
Introduce artificial light and a bit of exercise after dinner.
Stay out of the house for an hour or two in the early evening (he has his patients do this for three weeks to reset their biological clocks). Maybe take a walk at a brightly lit mall, visit a fitness center and walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike, or go grocery shopping. If you are home, you might do some light housework with plenty of lights on, or focus on a (brightly lit) hobby or craft project.
“It’s just a matter of getting people out of the routine of ‘resting their eyes’ after dinner,” Oexman says, referring to the fact that many people don’t even realize how much they may be nodding off in front of the TV in the evening.
About an hour before bedtime, dim the lights and slow down.
Start shutting off some lights and turning off screens, and maybe do some light stretching. This will encourage your body to start producing melatonin, the hormone that prepares you for sleep. And you've probably heard this before, but don’t watch TV in bed. “That’s the worst,” says Oexman.
Then it’s time for lights out and a good night’s sleep.