November is just around the corner, which means so is the end of Daylight Saving Time, when we all “fall back” in time and reset our clocks to an hour earlier. This year it occurs on Sunday, November 3rd, and on the surface the extra 60 minutes seem like a gift — an opportunity to sleep in and catch up on lost zzz's.
But in reality, most of us lose sleep when the time changes. In fact, one research review in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that the one-hour time shift can disrupt sleep for up to a week, and that we don’t ever gain that hour back.
Blame it on our circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that drives our hormone levels and sleep-wake cycle, among other things. It’s incredibly sensitive to shifts in daylight and mealtimes, so when it suddenly gets dark outside a full hour earlier, or you’re eating dinner when the clock says 6:30 pm but your body thinks it’s 7:30 pm, levels of hormones like sleep-bringing melatonin go off-kilter. The result: You have a harder time falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up the next morning.
It’s a struggle for all of us, but parents have got it particularly hard. Because in addition to wrestling with their own fatigue and brain fog, they’re contending with children whose sleep schedules have also been scrambled.
Kids need more sleep than adults to begin with (10 to as many as 14 hours a day), they feel the loss of sleep more acutely, and they don’t yet have the coping skills or access to caffeine to muscle through it. As a result, their attention span wanes, their appetite gets out of whack, and they can become moody and cranky — which doesn’t do their sleep-deprived parents any favors.
Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. There are a few simple tips and tricks you can use to help your entire family navigate the time change as painlessly as possible, so you can all enjoy that extra hour of early-morning sunshine.
1. Change bedtimes and wake times gradually.
Rather than shift sleep schedules by an hour in one fell swoop, move everyone’s bedtime back by 10-15 minutes each night the week before the time change, working your way up to a full hour later on the night of November 2nd. If possible, delay wake-up times, too.
This allows time for everyone in the household to adjust to the change and any lost sleep. And by the way, this same trick works in March when Daylight Saving Time begins and clocks shift forward an hour; just go to bed and wake up earlier instead of later.
2. Slowly adjust mealtimes, too.
Experts have long known that the body clock is synchronized with meal times, but new research in the journal Cell has identified insulin — a hormone released after we eat — as a primary player in strengthening the circadian rhythm. So it makes sense that jumping mealtimes by an hour makes the Daylight Saving Time transition that much harder. Shifting your mealtimes on the same schedule as you push back your sleep and wake times can help minimize the fallout.
3. Consider natural sleep aids.
Even with gradual shifts in bedtime, your body favors routine, so it might take a little time before you feel sleepy when you’re supposed to. On those nights when you need help falling asleep but don’t want the next morning “hangover” of a sleep medication, herbs with mild sedative properties are a great, natural option. Some to try:
- Passionflower is native to the Amazon, and it has a long history of use for promoting calm and relaxation and bringing on restful sleep — without leaving you feeling drowsy and foggy the next morning.
- Bacopa is considered a tonic for the nervous system, and it has been used traditionally in India for thousands of years to support normal sleep.
- Motherwort is known for easing nervous tension and supporting normal sleep. It’s especially helpful for those who suffer from mid-night awakenings.
4. Dial down stress levels.
Any change can be stressful, and doubly so when you’re navigating a transition for your entire family. For help coping during the adjustment period, consider adaptogens. These herbs do what their name implies: They help your body adapt to day-to-day stress by normalizing circadian rhythms and balancing the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis or HPA axis, which controls the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Some of the best adaptogens include ashwagandha, rhodiola, and reishi mushroom.
5. Go dark before bed.
Artificial light and blue light from screens (television, computer, smartphone) signal the brain that it’s time to wake up, so it doesn’t produce the hormones like melatonin that trigger drowsiness. Dimming the overheads and turning off technology at least 30-60 minutes before bed will help everyone’s body prepare for sleep.
6. Lower the bedroom shades.
Falling back an hour means more sunlight will stream through bedroom windows earlier in the morning — which is basically nature’s alarm clock. If you want your kids to sleep in a little rather than waking you up bright and extra-early, darken the windows in every bedroom with blinds and/or curtains.
7. Be aware of your adult beverages.
Remember that both coffee and alcohol can mess with your sleep. Starting with caffeine, it has a half-life of about five hours, meaning the amount of caffeine in your system is reduced by only half in five hours time — the rest can remain in your system long after as levels slowly dwindle. And while alcohol might help you fall asleep, it also leads to mid-night awakenings.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to swear off wine and lattes entirely. But during the week before we fall back, aim to cut off caffeine at least six hours before bedtime (one study found that having caffeine within six hours of going to bed reduced total sleep time by an hour), and minimize alcohol consumption.
8. Stay close to home.
Traveling or having sleepovers can disrupt sleep cycles at any time of year. Avoid them if you can in the week before the time change to make sure both you and your kids aren’t accumulating extra sleep debt.
9. Take a deep breath.
Like many of life’s little obstacles, this, too, shall pass. Being patient with yourself and your little ones when tensions run high can help you get through this disruption together. Before you know it, you’ll be back to your normal, happy, well-rested selves.
About the Author
Bill Rawls is an OB-GYN and leading expert in integrative health and herbal medicine. He is a best-selling author and the Medical Director of Vital Plan Select and Vital Plan, an online holistic health company and Certified B Corporation®.
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