Start tonight to stop daylight saving ruining your sleep

Much of Australia is winding their clocks forward an hour this Sunday, as daylight saving time comes into effect. Love it or hate it (and for the record, this writer is in the ‘love’ camp), it’s not fun to lose an hour’s sleep.

But according to Emeritus Professor Leon Lack, a sleep expert at Flinders University, there are ways to make the transition “effortless”, or at least pretty easy.

What will help you avoid sleepiness from the daylight saving change?

Lack and his colleague Dr Gorica Micic believe that the most important thing to do is start building extra sleep into your routine in the days leading up to the transition.

Ideally, you should start going to bed progressively 15-20 minutes earlier a few nights in advance. Lack says that starting on Thursday would be “ideal”.

“That would mean the transition would be effortless and not result in any loss of sleep. But that requires a fair amount of discipline that most people don’t have,” says Lack.

“At least they can try to get somewhere in between.”

Another thing that helps is a cup of tea or coffee in the morning.

“Morning caffeine can have some benefit to help me to shift the body clock earlier, a little bit like bright light,” says Lack.

But there’s a secret extra benefit: if you go to a café, you get out in the morning sunshine and get some exercise.

“A cup of coffee first thing might provide just enough motivation for particularly the evening types to get themselves out,” says Lack.

Lack and Micic’s other tips include:

  • Don’t sleep in later than usual this weekend
  • Get sunshine first thing in the morning both in the days before Sunday, and on Sunday morning
  • Avoid intense light exposure for 2-3 hours before bed, particularly on Saturday
  • Avoid caffeine in the second half of the day
  • Avoid exercise before bed
  • Aim to plan your Sunday and Monday so you’re not overloading your schedule
  • Take a 10-minute nap at lunchtime if you’re feeling sleepy

What effect does the daylight saving transition have on people?

“It doesn’t make a big difference to most healthy people. But the loss of an hour of sleep on maybe a couple of nights in a row has a little bit of impact,” says Lack.

There’s evidence that on the first few nights after a spring daylight saving shift, people get less sleep than normal.

“That’s not a huge problem. But it will make them a little bit sleepier the following days, and maybe a little bit irritable and maybe not quite as productive,” says Lack.

“There is some evidence that there’s an increase of impairments caused by that loss of sleep – increase of vehicle accidents, cardiovascular things like heart attacks or atrial fibrillation.”

Our ability to sleep, wake, and get hungry at the right time come from our circadian rhythms, or internal body clocks. Even in environments without clocks or sunlight, like caves, our circadian rhythms keep us operating on a sort-of 24 hour cycle.

Emphasis on “sort-of”.

“The majority of the population have body clocks that oscillate or tick over a little bit more slowly than 24 hours,” says Lack.

“The average for the population is 24 hours and 10 minutes.”

This means that most people tend to want to go to bed a tiny bit later each day. But people can also have longer and shorter circadian rhythms – those with shorter cycles tend to be morning people, while night owls can have longer cycles.

This is why getting sunlight as soon as you can on a spring daylight saving shift will help you to be less sleepy.

Does the public holiday help?

Some places in Australia – the ACT, NSW, and SA – have a public holiday next Monday. (So does Queensland, but they’re not switching to daylight saving.) Does the extra day off help with the transition?

Lack thinks it’s actually the opposite.

“If they have a holiday on Monday as well, that may be a disincentive for people to do anything about shifting their bedtimes and wake up times on Saturday and Sunday,” he says.

“What happens on weekends for a large number of people is that they stay up a little bit later on Friday and Saturday nights, because they don’t have commitments the next day.”

So don’t be fooled if you have a day off on Monday – you should still try and get to bed earlier tonight.

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