The Clocks are going back: How to manage your sleep accordingly!

The clocks ‘Fall back’ this coming Sunday 29th October meaning that – at 2 AM - the clocks in the UK officially move back to 1 AM, as they do in mainland Europe too. The benefits of ‘Daylight saving’ as it is sometimes called include the opportunity for an extra hour in bed on the Sunday, which may translate into extra sleep by some. This will also mean sunrise is an hour earlier, with the associated health benefits for those who manage to get out & enjoy some early morning sunshine, which research shows not only helps us feel better, it can also translate into an improved night of sleep later that day.

However, as so often, there is a downside too. So what is it? And what can be done to mitigate this

The key challenge for any change in the (external) clock is that it affects our internal clock or circadian rhythm. This is because we are guided by this circa 24-hour cycle to help regulate our sleep, and this is in turn largely dictated by how much natural light we get and indeed when we are exposed to it. So a change to this routine – even by as little as an hour – can take some days to recover from. And if you think that’s bad, wait for the article next March about the ‘Spring forward’ clock change when we lose an hour’s sleep! In fact, a recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) survey found that “6 in 10 Americans (64%) support eliminating seasonal time changes”. Such a move – in our case to a permanent Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) by eliminating British Summer Time (BST) – would mean more exposure for most people to early morning light and is better for health and safety.

“The natural, daily cycle of light and darkness is the most powerful timing cue that helps synchronize the body clock,” said Dr. James Rowley, president of the AASM. “Not only does permanent standard time provide sunlight earlier in the morning, but it also ushers in darkness earlier at night, making it easier to fall asleep.”

So what can we do to optimise the benefit of the clocks changing this weekend to give us an extra hour in bed? Well, here are a couple of different yet complementary approaches. The AASM suggest that those in need of more sleep should make the most of an extra hour with the following tips:

  • Wait to change your clocks until it is time to get ready for bed.
  • Go to bed at your usual bedtime.
  • Just before getting into bed, set your clocks back one hour.
  • Wake up at your standard wake time.
  • Take note of how much better you feel after an extra hour of sleep, and hence continue to go to bed each night at the earlier bedtime.

And if that sounds a bit simplistic, another plan comes from Sleep Foundation which you can start on immediately! Here’s my take on their advice:

  • Minimise alcohol consumption on Saturday night, and if you must have a glass, have it at least four hours before your intended bedtime.
  • A consistent sleep routine will always help you. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day – including the weekends – is a healthy sleep hygiene practice that can also prepare you for time changes.
  • Spend Time Outdoors: Since natural light is a driving force behind our circadian rhythms, exposure to sunlight can alleviate feelings of tiredness during the day that often accompany time changes. Spending time outside during the day also suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone released in the evening to help you feel tired and ready for bed.
  • Nap in Moderation: People who experience sleep debt as a result of DST may find some relief by taking short naps during the day. Try and keep these naps to about 20 minutes in length; otherwise, you may wake up feeling groggy.
  • Don’t Consume Caffeine Too Close to Bedtime: In fact, I rarely drink caffeine (including Green Tea) after 12 noon as the later you have it the more it can affect your sleep.

In conclusion, for those of us who want to optimise our sleep, the clock ‘falling back’ offers us a sleep reset opportunity. So why not make the most of this annual opportunity this weekend and see how you can extend time asleep, even if only by a few extra minutes?

Sources: Six in 10 Americans support the elimination of seasonal time changes ( 17 October 2023

Daylight Saving Time - How Time Change Affects Sleep | Sleep Foundation 20 October 2023