How to Prepare for Daylight Savings, According to Sleep Experts

published Oct 30, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand

If you haven’t been able to sleep lately, there’s probably a good reason for that—and you’re not alone, either. Between a national election and a global pandemic, stress levels have been understandably on the rise, leading to a severe lack of a good night’s rest for many people. 

Still, it cannot be overstated how important it is to feel well-rested, given the scientific benefits of sleep on the mind and body. Prioritizing time for some shut-eye can lead to a better immune system (especially since it’s flu season), a better mood, and sharper memory. Vanessa Hill, a behavioral scientist and sleep expert based in Australia, calls sleep the ultimate form of self-care and for good reason. 

“Getting enough—7 hours or more—sleep helps us manage stress, regulate our emotions and it can even boost our immune system,” Hill tells Apartment Therapy. “At a time when there’s an increase in both stress and uncertainty, good sleep is a tool we need to help us cope.” 

But there’s also what Hill calls a “catch-22” when it comes to talking about how important sleep is: The more you overthink it, the more you might be stressed out about not getting enough sleep. And stress and anxiety contribute to not being able to fall asleep, waking up throughout the night, or even staying awake counting down how many hours you could get if you fall asleep right now.

I’m guessing you don’t need a reason to be even more stressed than you already are, given the emotional and physical hardships that COVID-19 has brought this year. But that’s why daylight savings time could be threatening. Add the twice-annual time change into the mix, and it’s no surprise that you might be anticipating yet another hurdle in the sleep department. 

The more time you can give yourself to prepare for daylight savings time, which officially hits on Nov. 1, the better. Here, Hill offers some of her best practices to tackle the loss of an hour that might make adjusting just a little bit easier this year. 

What exactly is daylight savings time?

Remember that elementary school-era explainer, “spring forward, fall back?” Daylight savings time is the twice-a-year occurrence when we have to set our clocks forward and back, dating back to 1908 and now practiced by over 70 countries worldwide. It has everything to do with the changes in light as the hemispheres shift from summer to winter. As Hill explains, “We advance the clocks over the summer months so it’s lighter in the evening.” But with that give must come a take: That borrowed hour comes to collect every fall, resulting in shorter days and earlier nights.

Naturally, losing an hour tends to throw some people off. “Personally, I love daylight savings time,” Hill says. Because she’s based in Australia, she’s getting later sunsets while the U.S. will deal with earlier nights. But she also notes that the shift “can come at a cost. The effects are rougher going into summer when we lose an hour’s sleep,” says Hill. 

This year, daylight savings time starts on Nov. 1, meaning that you get an hour more sleep that night. But while that extra 60 minutes of rest sounds nice, it does come with side effects. Hill notes that researchers have found that some people stop exercising entirely after the clocks change, which could have negative effects, given the mental and physical benefits of working out. Seeing as many people spend time outside to cope with COVID-19, it remains to be seen how outdoor exercisers will cope with the limited window of opportunity. 

To add to the disruption, human bodies naturally have a hard time acclimating to any time difference, let alone daylight savings time. “Even though daylight savings isn’t as tough on us going into winter, remember there’s still a misalignment in our internal biological clock—you may feel tired and hungry at different times until your body can adjust,” says Hill.

What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?

By now, you’ve more than likely experienced the effects of not getting enough sleep and “unpleasant” is a light word for it. “If you aren’t getting the sleep your body needs, you’re not going to be functioning as well as you could be—that’s the straightforward answer,” Hill says. “The next day you might find that you can’t focus, you’re moody, and your physical appearance may change slightly (beauty sleep is a real thing). And if it’s a continuous problem for you, there can be further negative effects to your health over the years.”

So what’s a sleep-deprived person to do? “The best thing you can do is a bit of planning,” Hill says. “Set a bedtime alarm, get up at the same time every day.” She also recommends looking at your daily schedule to see if you can make any changes, as well as adjusting your physical bedroom. The aim? Making it “cool, quiet, and cozy.”

There are major, but affordable, changes that you can make to your space to make sleep come more naturally, like getting blackout curtains or investing in quality sheets. You can also gradually change your nighttime habits to be more relaxing. Try leaving your phone on the stand instead of bringing it to bed with you, cut down on the amount of caffeine you drink over the course of your day, and journal to decompress your feelings and emotions so they don’t literally keep you up at night. 

What are some best practices to adjust for daylight savings time? 

One of the benefits of knowing about daylight savings time is you can prepare for it. As a Virgo, planning ahead happens to be in my ballpark, but anyone can think of Nov. 1 as a good reset anyway.

“Coming in and out of daylight savings time is a really good time to do an overall sleep health check in your life,” Hill notes. “First of all, are you getting enough sleep?” She recommends that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, though kids will probably need much more depending on their age.

According to a CDC report from 2008, most Americans (70 percent!) are not getting enough sleep. Hill recommends making changes to your schedule to counter that: Make sure there’s enough hours in your nighttime wind down to relax (meaning: no work emails or doomscrolling, a term which Quartz reporter Karen Ho popularized this year). Hill also suggests making sure your bedroom is between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit, dark, and quiet. As tempting as it is to watch “Schitt’s Creek” until 1 a.m., it’s probably best to read a book or something less stimulating, so your brain has time to calm down for the night.

“For some people—like those with small kids or who do shift work—it’s going to be a lot harder to get good sleep,” Hill says. “But a lot can make some small changes that have a big difference, like keeping the phone outside of our bedroom, not using your phone in bed, setting a bedtime alarm, [and] stopping that Netflix binge at a prearranged time.” 

No matter what changes you make, the most important thing is to be patient with yourself. Adjusting to everything is a little bit more difficult given the uncertainty of 2020 and a little bit of kindness—yes, especially toward yourself—will go a long way.