An Hour Changes Everything

November 11, 2011 | By | Comments (4)


For most, that extra hour of sleep on Saturday night was a welcome treat. Falling back for Daylight Savings Time is usually preferred over springing forward. In my household, though, that extra hour—60 tiny little minutes—has set off a week of disrupted sleep, wacky eating, and a general sense of being off-schedule. Even my puppy has been getting up at 4:45am!

I remember when my kids were babies—and adhering to a very strict schedule of eating, napping and sleeping—I had a similar experience with time changes. My puppy this week reminded me how much she and human babies are alike. She wakes up when her body tells her it’s time. Whether that’s 5:45am (or now 4:45am) makes no difference to her.

Just because we’re able to easily change our bedroom and microwave clocks, doesn’t mean our internal clocks adjust as quickly. This week I’ve been experiencing what sleep expert Pete Bils describes as “junk sleep.”  As vice president of sleep innovation for Sleep Number, Pete has what sounds to me like a pretty fascinating job: studying and analyzing all the latest research and clinical studies on sleep (you can follow him on Twitter @SleepGeekPete).

While you can’t trick your internal body clock, Pete says, there are some environmental cues you can use shift your body clock. Melatonin is one. Light is the other. “Seared into our physiology is going to bed at sunset and getting up at sunrise,” Pete says. “If you change your bed time by an hour, which we do for Daylight Savings Time, it just means you are going to bed at a different time and the dozens of rhythms in your body take a while to figure that out.”

“If you think about it, everything shifts when you adjust for time changes,” Pete says. “Daylight Savings Time is most disruptive to people who keep very good schedules.”

(I think Pete might have been saying in a nice way that I keep a rigid schedule. Who, me?)

Certainly eating, exercising, working, and relaxing are all affected by a one hour time change. And now we’re doing things like driving home from work in the dark.

So if you’re feeling a little off this week, you are not alone. For the sleep challenged, Pete suggests using light as a way to signal your body it’s time to wake up or go to sleep. “Light is the most powerful physical force on the sleep system,” he says. So in the morning, expose yourself to light (maybe even use one of those alarm clocks that wakes you with light) and at night get into dim light one hour before bed time. That means no screens of any kind before sleeping. No television, no laptops, no reading on the iPad. And if you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, do not turn on that overhead light.

Most important though, is to be sure to get the magical 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep you need every night. “The closer you get to that number,” Pete says, “the better.”