Fall is so good: that welcome nip in the air, brilliant foliage, boots and sweaters, Day of the Dead and Halloween festivities, chili cook-offs, roaring fires, Friday Night Lights, pumpkin everything (for better or worse).
Autumn also ushers in the year’s best sleeping weather.
But there’s also that pesky time change, the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST), lurking like a buzz-kill shadow.
On November 7, every state except Arizona and Hawaii—which have little else in common—will “fall back” an hour. Queue the coast-to-coast grumbling about sleep deprivation, morning commutes in the dark, and a lack of evening light.
A one-hour change doesn’t seem like much but it has been shown to throw off the body’s processes and functions..
The Origins of DST
According to NASA, way back in the late 1700s, Ben Franklin suggested people rise earlier to minimize the use of candles and lamp oil.
But it was New Zealand entomologist George Hudson who came up with the modern concept of daylight saving time in 1895. It was self-serving: Hudson wanted more after-work hours of sunshine to go bug hunting in the summer.
DST gained traction throughout the Canada, Europe, and U.S after World War I. Ever since, we collectively “spring forward” on the second Sunday of March, and “fall back” on the first Sunday in November.
There are positives to DST.
Studies show that crimes and traffic accidents decrease when there is an increase in daylight. With DST, we spend less money lighting our homes. DST also provides a boost to the economy: the more sunlight we have, the longer we stay out dining and shopping. For many of us, longer days enhance mood.
But there are also downsides to DST.
Experts say that the twice-a-year DST changes can lead to an increase in sleepiness for as long as a week afterward. That correlates to a drop in productivity and missed days of work. Evidence also shows that both heart attacks and strokes are more common around DST changes. And if you live in the Sunbelt, you know that more sunshine hours mean more and longer use of air conditioning.
What we know for sure: DST definitely monkeys with our body clocks.
The Role of Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is the complex, sensitive system responsible for our body’s sleep and wake cycles. It operates on a 24-hour cycle that governs chemical and physical changes.
Even subtle fluctuations in your sleep schedule can upset your circadian rhythm. External factors, including light, can affect your circadian rhythm. If you’ve ever experienced jet lag or had to change your work schedule from day to night, you know the impact is real.
For these reasons, many healthcare professionals, politicians, researchers, and school administrators argue that DST is an outdated and unnecessary practice.
A bipartisan bill, the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, was submitted to the U.S. Senate calling for an end to DST. But until there’s consensus on the federal level (the states can’t act alone), DST will continue to be a biannual annoyance.
Whether you love it or hate it, we’ve gotta live with DST for now. These are proven strategies for smoothing out the upcoming fall time shift.
Ease Into It
As with any life change, your brain responds better when you prepare. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night and waking up 15 minutes later each day. If you’ve got children, gradually adjust their sleep and nap schedules, too.
Get Some Morning Sun
Our bodies are synchronized to the sun. Having your morning coffee outside signals your body that it’s time to wake up.
Shore Up Your Sleep Hygiene
Experts recommend you adhere to a consistent seven-day-a-week sleep/wake schedule. Maintain a cool, dark, and quiet (white noise is okay) bedroom. Limit your bed to sleep and sex.
Introduce an Evening Ritual
What helps you wind down at bedtime? A cup of chamomile tea, a warm bath, an hour of reading, or a guided meditation can help you relax.
Avoid Nighttime Exercise
Schedule your workout for earlier the day to avoid revving up your system in the evening.
Edit PM Beverages
We know it’s a bummer, but alcohol and caffeine are the enemies of quality sleep.
Tweak Your Dinner
Eat more protein, less carbohydrates, and fewer sweets. Remember that bedtime snacking ramps up your digestive system, which is not good for shut-eye.
We know it’s really hard, but science tells us that phones, TV, and tablets should be switched off at least an hour before you turn in.
Reevaluate Your Bedding
If your sleep disturbances are frequent, it’s time to assess the condition and comfort of your mattress, and the quality of your pillows and sheets. It might be time for upgrades.
See Your Doctor
For chronic sleep-related challenges, talk to a physician to determine if underlying conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea are the culprit.
Try a Light Box
A light box can be a lifesaver if you live in an overcast (we’re talking to you, Bostonians and Portlanders!) part of the country. The device, which emits sunlight-mimicking light, can be a seasonal stand-in for the real thing during short winter days. It may also help alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when used for 20 minutes in the morning.