It's the wicked tradition of springtime -- setting the clock forward. Spring forward? For most of us, it's more like stumbling sideways into daylight-saving time.
This year, the joy occurs before winter has a good chance to thaw. Prepare yourself -- it's this weekend when we reset the alarm clock.
You know the drill: On Monday morning, you hit the snooze too many times, stagger out of bed, grab an extra cup of coffee -- and push yourself into summer mode. But take heart. Those first few mornings don't have to be dire, if you plan ahead. A few strategic steps will help your body adjust quite easily, according to snooze experts with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
"Come Monday morning, you might be the only bright-eyed and bushy-tailed employee at the office," said Ralph Downey, III, PhD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., in a news release.
Mother Nature vs. the Alarm Clock
Here's what you're up against: The advent of daylight-saving time is a double-whammy for the human body, says David Glass, PhD, a biological sciences professor at Kent State University in Ohio.
"In the spring, we not only have to get up an hour early -- but we're also fighting the extra 20 or 30 minutes of sleep our bodies naturally want every day," he tells WebMD. "In the fall, the time change is more in line with our internal clock." Are you sabotaging your sleep? Take the quiz.
The body is wired with a sleep-wake cycle that advances a bit every 24 hours, Glass explains. "If I put you in a dimly lit cave, where you didn't know what time it was, you would get up 20 to 30 minutes later every day." Daylight reins in this natural tendency because daylight controls melatonin, a hormone made by the brain that helps regulate our sleep cycles.
But there's more: We've also got "Sunday night syndrome" working against us, says Kenneth Sassower, MD, a staff neurologist in the Sleep Disorders Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and neurology instructor at Harvard Medical School.
"Studies show that Sunday nights are the worst nights to fall asleep, even when it's not daylight-saving time," Sassower tells WebMD. "If you've stayed up late, slept in all weekend, by Monday morning you're exhausted. Your body clock is disrupted, so you aren't ready to get up when the alarm goes off."
How to offset Monday-morning drag?
- Prepare yourself! Make the time change incrementally beforehand. "Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier and earlier for five days or so," Sassower suggests. "It helps. When the time change hits, you're already there. It's the same advice I give to people who are traveling out of the country."
Indeed, daylight-saving time is much like jet lag -- "the older you are, the more difficulty you will have," says Dennis H. Nicholson, MD, director of Sleep Disorders Center at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in California. "It will take one to two days to reprogram."
- Around midday, get some vigorous exercise. "Exercise helps advance the body clock, just as bright light exposure does," says Glass.
- Don't exercise too late in the day. "Exercise raises your body temperature," explains Nicholson. "People get sleepy as their body temperature goes down, not when it's elevated."
- Get up at your regular time -- whether you had a good night's sleep or not. "Don't let yourself sleep in," says Nicholson. "If you stay in bed, your body will never adjust."
- Spend an hour or more outside, preferably in the sunshine. "That's hard for folks to do, but it's very important," Glass says. "Sunlight is especially helpful in advancing your body clock."
- Take a morning walk. After a short night, walking is an easy exercise that will help advance your body clock, says Glass.
Good "sleep hygiene" also helps:
- Don't eat a heavy meal before bedtime.
- Don't drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol.
- Don't nap during the day, or at least keep it brief -- 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stop working on any task an hour before bedtime to calm down.
- Don't discuss emotional issues at bedtime.
- Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable.
- Don't turn lights on at night. Use a small night-light instead.
What About Melatonin?
Taking a melatonin supplement (1 to 3 milligrams) one hour before bedtime might also ease the time change, Glass suggests. However, studies of melatonin have had mixed results.
Melatonin supplements are sold over the counter as dietary supplements and aren't held to the same FDA standards as prescription drugs. Some studies showed that supplements don't help with sleep problems, but others suggested that melatonin might ease jet lag and have a modest effect with insomnia.
Carefully timed daylight exposure works just as well -- helping regulate melatonin that the body naturally produces, Nicholson explains. "When we're exposed to daylight early in the day, the release of melatonin is suppressed. As daylight dims in the evening, melatonin is released. It's daylight that [controls] the sleep cycle."
If you continue having difficulty adjusting to daylight-saving time, call an accredited sleep center or a sleep specialist, Nicholson adds.