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Experts say there are a number of ways to prepare and adjust for the autumn time change. Sanga Park/Getty Images
  • Experts say the end of daylight saving time at 2 a.m. Sunday can impact your health as you adjust to more light in the morning and less light in the evening.
  • They say people don’t necessarily get extra sleep when the clocks are turned back an hour, so it’s important to be aware of what time you go to bed and wake up.
  • They say you can prepare for the change days in advance with more outdoor physical activity and slowly adjusting your sleep pattern.

The end of daylight saving time and an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning certainly sounds good, but that may be because it’s too good to be true.

Experts say that instead of “gaining an hour of sleep,” we’re more likely to stay up later or not consider the importance of preparing ahead.

We may even notice changes to our moods and motivation.

People with seasonal mood disorders and sleep pattern problems may be particularly affected.

The health effects of ‘falling back’

Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, is a New York City-based neuropsychologist and the director of Comprehend the Mind, a diagnostic and treatment center for neuropsychological, psychiatric, and educational difficulties.

She says the effects of ending daylight saving time are associated with an item in the retinas of our eyes called a ganglion cell that contains the photopigment melanopsin.

“When we are exposed to sunlight, melanopsin signals a pathway to cells in the hypothalamus specifically responsible for regulating our body’s biological functions,” Hafeez told Healthline.

“This process then triggers the pineal gland, which is in charge of melatonin secretion, which peaks at night and wears off during the day,” she said. “In simpler terms, the less light exposure we get, the more out of step we may feel.”

“Lack of sunlight suppresses the production of two important hormones, serotonin, and sleep-inducing melatonin, both of which play an important role in mood balance,” Hafeez said. “In other words, a person’s level of serotonin and melatonin decreases when there is less sunlight, which may lead to symptoms of depression.”

Why time change doesn’t mean more sleep

Allison Siebern, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist certified in behavioral sleep medicine and the head sleep science advisor at Proper, a holistic sleep company in New York City.

She explains that behaviorally, people know the extra hour is being built in, so they actually stay up later doing other things rather than allowing for a full night of sleep.

Siebern says a shift in the sleep cycle can also disrupt quality of sleep, which means that even though we are technically adding an hour by “turning the clocks back,” it doesn’t necessarily translate to everyone getting an extra hour of sleep.

“The shift in time may translate to a little bit longer sleep duration but most likely not the full hour as the body remains physiologically entrained to the previous clock time,” she told Healthline.

For example, Siebern says, someone may still wake up around their wake time of 6 a.m. even though the clock now states it is 5 a.m.

“It can be hard to sleep against these signals even though the person has that extra hour by the external clock,” she said.

That’s why you still need to prepare yourself for the time change, even though experts say there’s less to adjust to when falling back than springing ahead.

Preparing for the time change 

If you live with a mood disorder such as seasonal affective disorder or have preexisting sleep pattern problems, taking steps to limit effects, however small, is strongly encouraged.

“For people living with mood disorders, the approach of the ‘fall back’ may be a challenging one,” said Hafeez. “It marks the start of the dark season when seasonal affective disorder may kick in.”

“Individuals who experience seasonal depression are prone to disturbances in their body clock,” she said. “The time change could worsen depression by disrupting the body clock even further.”

In such cases, experts say people may want to consider talking with their primary healthcare professional about the benefits of light boxes or boxes that mimic outdoor sunlight.

Siebern recommends people use light boxes first thing in the morning to help the body stay entrained to the sleep schedule and also for a short duration in the afternoon as the light is decreasing to help signal to the brain that it is still time to be awake and alert.

“Using behavioral strategies can also help cue the body for when it is time to be awake and alert versus sleep time, such as leaving activities that are more engaging to do in the late afternoon and evening time to help with staying awake and out of bed until bedtime,” she said.

Hafeez suggests a similar approach.

She recommends taking the following necessary steps to adjust to the changing of the clocks:

  • Scheduling more outside time. The more time spent outside in the daylight doing physical activity, the less sluggish you will feel once the clocks fall back. This is also a good way to help reduce the risk of a depressive episode.
  • Not sleeping later on Sunday. On the Sunday morning of the clock change, people mistakenly opt to sleep in. Stick to the same wake-up time while getting to bed earlier.
  • Taking Monday off work. People can feel the effects of the clock change for up to 3 weeks. “Taking a day off to focus on your own well-being can become a nice post-clock change ritual,” Hafeez said.

Even if you don’t have a diagnosed mood or sleep disorder, you may still want to consider additional self-care during this time.

“One of the hardest things about the time change is knowing that along with it, winter is coming,” said Hafeez. “Months of freezing rain and snow can be trying, even for people who don’t live with mental health conditions.”

She adds that turning the clock back and being exposed to less sunlight also drives many people inside to a more sedentary lifestyle.

If you suspect you have seasonal affective disorder, Siebern suggests discussing this with your primary healthcare professional to further explore options to help support your system and assess if working with a licensed mental health professional is a good fit.

 



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