‘Falling Back’ Is Easier Than ‘Springing Forward’: Here’s Why
- Experts say “falling back” after daylight saving time is easier on the body than “springing forward” is in March.
- However, they note that parents of infants, night shift workers, and people with mood disorders can be affected.
- They say slowly adjusting your bedtime, getting more exercise, and using a light box can help.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every part of 2020, from spring break to back to school to the upcoming holiday season.
However, experts say it isn’t likely to alter how we experience the end of daylight saving time.
Unlike the “spring forward” time change, moving your clock back this Sunday at 2 a.m. will give you an extra hour of sleep.
That is, unless you’re part of certain groups, say experts.
People with babies and toddlers may be impacted because young children sleep and wake by their biological clocks rather than set alarms.
The change in exposure to sunlight is also associated with seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that occurs seasonally for 2 consecutive years, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
People working night shifts are also more vulnerable to any effects from this seasonal time change.
Experts say there are ways to decrease the impact of the upcoming time change.
The benefits of autumn ‘fall back’
Dr. Kannan Ramar, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and a sleep medicine physician at the Center for Sleep Medicine as well as a professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, explains the earlier sunrise and sunset tends to align better with our internal body clock known as our circadian rhythm.
This master clock running in the background is responsible for regulating our sleep and wake cycles.
“Earlier sunrise helps to wake the body and mind in the morning and tends to prevent the internal body clock being shifted to a later time period,” Ramar told Healthline.
“Earlier sunset tends to help the body wind down and prepares us for bedtime, whereas daylight in the evening affects our ability to fall asleep and might, in turn, affect the quality and quantity of sleep,” he explained.
This may help explain why people tend to tolerate this time change better than the “spring forward” in March.
Taking advantage of the extra hour
“In general, if people feel like they’ve been a little bit sleep deprived, this actually gives them that extra hour of sleep to catch up on, which is kind of a nice thing for a lot of people,” said Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a member of the AASM who is board certified in sleep medicine and internal medicine.
However, experts explain you can’t take advantage of the time change if you’re already playing catchup on sleep.
This is why establishing healthy sleep habits in advance of time changes is advised.
Ramar offers the following suggestions:
- Get enough sleep in general (7 to 9 hours).
- Avoid evening light, including devices such as smartphones and tablets.
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Slowly shift your wake and bedtime to align with the change in advance.
- Maintain a consistent bed and wake time.
Experts add that daily exercise is also a good idea.
“Daily exercise can help increase alertness and help adjust to our new sleep time,” said Dr. Aneesa Das, a sleep medicine expert at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“With shorter days, we may need to make an increased effort to get our natural light exposure during the daylight hours,” she told Healthline.
Paruthi says small changes to your schedule — like taking a quick walk outside during your lunch break — can help increase exposure to sunlight and boost total exercise time.
Sunlight and exercise are both also associated with serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects how the body manages mood changes.
With many working from home or otherwise sheltering in place, increasing serotonin levels could look like taking safe, physically distanced strolls around the neighborhood.
Advice for parents
Our smart clocks may sync automatically to the start of standard time, but our internal clocks are a different story.
Paruthi says because babies and toddlers aren’t aware of the time change, an infant who usually wakes at 6 a.m. may wake at 5 a.m.
“This can be distressing for parents,” said Paruthi. “It’s an important thing for parents if they can remember to plan ahead of time.”
You can do this by shifting bedtime ahead by 10 minutes each night about a week before daylight saving time ends — or after.
Don’t worry if you forget because you can still help your baby or toddler transition to the time change.
“It may take a few weeks to adjust,” Paruthi said.
Concern for night shift workers
Overnight and late shift workers are the population that sleep experts focus on after daylight saving time ends.
“That’s about 20 percent of the workforce, and it’s especially healthcare workers,” said Paruthi. “And especially in other areas of industry, or in large plants, or places where people are working the late shift, and they’re going to get an extra hour of work.”
“They already worked a 12-hour shift. Now they might be working 13 hours,” she noted. “We really want them to be careful on their drive home.”
Keep in mind the autumn time change also brings changing light levels and visibility while driving.
But there isn’t conclusive evidence to associate the time change with increased traffic accidents.
The research is actually conflicting, with a third of studies finding traffic accidents and injuries increase after the change, a third finding accidents and injuries decrease, and a third finding no significant difference.
However, experts agree drivers who get extra sleep are more alert and less at risk of accidents.
People with mood disorders
New research has found that certain groups, including those with mental health issues or substance use disorders, are at increased risk for adverse psychosocial outcomes during a pandemic.
And with the upcoming decrease in daylight hours, there’s cause for concern for those already struggling, experts say.
“Though there is no direct causal evidence of time change leading to seasonal depression, the lack of enough daylight, particularly during winter, can be associated with seasonal depression,” said Ramar.
The APA explains that seasonal affective disorder has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the following factors can increase your risk for seasonal affective disorder:
- being female
- being a young adult
- having a family history of depression
- having a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
Like other mood disorders, the experience of seasonal affective disorder varies from person to person.
However, the APA says common signs and symptoms may include:
- feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
- change in sleep or sleeping too much
- loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
- increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable to others)
- feeling worthless or guilty
- difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact a medical or mental health professional.
Boosting mood without sunlight
Early morning access to sunlight is ideal, but sometimes it isn’t an option due to weather conditions, work schedules, and other factors.
In such cases, experts say artificial lighting with a light box will work.
“It’s very effective,” said Paruthi.
It can even help with teenagers who suffer from delayed sleep disorders, she says.
“This way, we can actually time their bright light to kind of help shift their circadian rhythm earlier so they can go to sleep at a more acceptable time and get enough sleep overnight so they’re ready for school the next day,” Paruthi explained.
But getting the timing and the light intensity level right is crucial to the process.
Paruthi explained the correct ways to use a light box include:
- in the early morning hours
- at a distance of 14 to 18 inches
- without looking into the light
It’s important to note that light therapy does have a direct effect on your internal clock.
And due to its stimulating nature, there is room for abuse.
“You want to carefully use it,” said Paruthi.
“For people who find themselves becoming manic or hypomanic, if the light’s something that could trigger mania, they definitely want to avoid it,” she said.
If a light box isn’t an option, Paruthi says you can find light visors, but some people have said the light was too bright because it’s so close to their eyes.
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