Why I strongly dislike "spring forward"...
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
The change to daylight saving time (DST) has happened. It has been a few days now. How are you liking it? Obviously, you can tell that I don't.
I always brace myself for the change. How come? It's because it plays havoc with my system, which you certainly know because it's doing the exact same thing to yours!
If you had paid attention to the news prior to the time change, then you probably would have heard of its effect on people and that it is one of the largest social experiments ever. You may have also heard that many sleep experts hope that this time change will no longer be implemented.
The results of the experiment have been in for a while: there is a significant increase in heart attacks when we "spring forward" to daylight saving time and a significant decrease in heart attacks when we "fall back" to standard time. Other findings include that judges are harsher in their sentencing after DST and more lenient after the return to standard time. This happens with just an hour of sleep that is lost or gained. Can you imagine what happens when you deprive yourself of more than an hour of sleep on a regular basis? Yikes!
Whether you are a night owl or a morning lark, you are going to have to make a decision about whether to disregard the time change and keep your sleep schedule consistent. However, for most people, the decision is made for them by virtue of their participation in society. If the rest of society is operating an hour ahead of you, it's likely that you'll have to adjust. Right?
So, even though consistency in sleep/wake times is key to sleep quality, you are likely going to be forced to change these times if you want to be somewhat aligned with the rest of society.
What's the time change like for me, the night owl?
I chose to make my regular bedtime 4:30 am after having changed my lifestyle to accommodate my "night owl-ness". Of course, I have to work at it because it is way too easy for me to delay my bedtime even later into the night. It's kind of like going to the gym or healthy eating. You need to stay consistent. However, this effort is worth it, and the 4:30 bedtime allows for me to remain productive at night while also allowing for me to wake up before noon and still get my 7 hours ( you should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep as an adult). This means that I still have the entire afternoon to work with 9-to-5 society. That's not bad.
However, because of the time change, my bedtime now reads as 5:30 am, and I really don't have much leeway to deviate from this time, even when necessary, if I want to get my 7 hours. Consequently, I am late for everything, and this situation is magnified because I now only have around 3-4 hours in the afternoon to schedule meetings and appointments or to run errands that can only be done during regular 9-to-5 work hours. Not ideal.
So, how to adjust to the time change?
Some people like to take melatonin to help advance their sleep phase. I do strongly suggest that you speak with a qualified professional before you begin to use it, even though you can get it, as a supplement, without a prescription.
However, melatonin on its own is usually not enough to shift your circadian rhythm quickly. Bright light in the morning is key. Sunlight is good. However, you can use a full-spectrum light designed specifically for shifting your circadian rhythm as well. The latter option is probably better if you wake up early in the morning, before the sun rises. How well you are able to shift your circadian rhythm is dependent upon when you use that light and for how long.
As a night owl, I actually have to pay extra attention to my sleep habits. So, I am developing an app to help me with this. It will probably require some tweaking because it's usually not the case that you get an app right on the first try. So, I'll use it on myself and be the guinea pig!
So, what kinds of things will I track? Well, I would be tracking cues that the body uses to help determine when to go to bed and when to wake up, things such as sunlight, temperature, and eating times. These cues, taken together, can be used to shift your biological clock, within a limited range, depending upon how flexible or inflexible your internal clock is to shifting. After the shift, sticking to the new schedule will be the challenge. This is where the app, a sleep community, or an accountability partner will help because the maintenance of this phase shift is the most difficult thing.
I am not sure whether DST will ever be a thing of the past, although some places have recently decided to take that stance. Until that time comes, if it ever comes, learn how to adjust your internal clock and make sure to develop good sleep maintenance habits.