Are you ready to move your clocks forward by an hour this weekend? That’s right — for most people in the United States, it’s time to “spring forward” into Daylight Saving Time on Sunday, March 12, at 2:00 a.m.
“For whatever reason, Daylight Saving Time always just creeps up on us,” said pediatrician Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a professor of adolescent medicine in University of Washington’s department of pediatrics in Seattle.
Residents of Hawaii, most of Arizona and the US territories in the Pacific and Caribbean don’t follow the time change.
For folks who are adjusting their clocks, the body isn’t going to like getting up a whole hour earlier, so it’s best if you and your kids start adapting by going to bed and waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each day for four or more days before the change, experts say.
“Planning for the change can be key to lessening the impact of this change on your body’s circadian rhythms,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
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Begin to adjust the timing of other daily routines that are time cues for your body as well, such as meals, exercise and medications, he added.
Prepping in advance is an especially good plan for teenagers, who are naturally programmed to stay up late and sleep late, and for anyone else in the family who is a night owl, said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Didn’t do that? Don’t despair. “It’s never too late to start,” Dasgupta said. “Sleep is very individualized, and every child will respond differently to the time change. Make sure you as the parent are getting the rest you need as well, so you’re not overly irritable with your child.”
Moving bed and wake times
Younger children tend to adapt a bit better to time changes than older children and adults, Breuner said, so they may need fewer days to adapt.
Zee, who is also a professor of neurology at Feinberg, agreed: “For most younger children, moving their bedtime and wake time by about 10 to 15 minutes earlier starting three days before the time change can help them adjust to the social clock time change by Monday morning,” she said.
If that didn’t happen, expect some grumpiness until your child’s body adjusts, and be prepared to cut them some slack, Dasgupta said.
“In the days following Daylight Saving Time, I try to be more forgiving if my child is having an extra temper tantrum,” he said.
There are other ways parents and caregivers can ease the transition, Breuner said. Lay clothes out and pack up homework before bedtime to reduce the stress in the morning. It’s also a good idea to pack a to-go breakfast in case everyone is running late.
“That way they’re snacking on the bus or in the car versus trying to sit down for a full-on breakfast when everybody’s kind of ‘Whoa, it’s an hour later,’” she said.
And “do not let kids nap,” she added. “That just lengthens any adjustment to the time change.”
Let there be light
For everyone in the family, the emerging lightness in the morning is a good thing, experts say. When light enters your eyes, it’s a signal to the brain to shut down melatonin, the hormone the body makes to put you to sleep.
“Get morning-bright light for 20 to 30 minutes soon after waking up,” Zee said. “Increase bright light exposure at home, school and work for the rest of the morning.”
This strategy is particularly important for teenagers and night owls, Zee said, and they should do this before and continue after Daylight Saving Time starts to help with adaptation to the new time.
Breuner advocates for making a “real hard rule” about keeping television, smartphones, laptops, gaming devices or any other electronic device out of the bedroom.
“Devices should be off and charging away from the bed, whether it’s in the kitchen or another room besides the bedroom,” she said.
“We don’t secrete melatonin to help us sleep when we’re staring at light,” Breuner said.
When it comes to teens, don’t fall for the “I need my phone for an alarm in the morning, and it helps me go to sleep at night,” she said. “Get up and get your iPod and listen to some music and get a regular alarm clock.”
If a child is struggling with depression or anxiety, not getting enough restful sleep can have serious consequences. “The likelihood of the child having worse behavioral health outcomes is higher,” she said.
Let there be dark
The same rule about light applies to the evening, but in reverse, Zee said. She suggests avoiding bright light for at least three hours before bedtime: “This will allow your own melatonin to rise and promote sleep.”
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Make sure your bedroom promotes sleep as well, Zee added, by minimizing light exposure from the outside with light-blocking shades or curtains. Keep lights in the bedroom dim and choose LED lights that have more reddish or brownish tones.
Ban any lights in the blue spectrum from the bedroom, such as those emitted by electronic devices like televisions, smartphones, tablets and laptops. Blue light is the most stimulating type of light, which tells the brain that it’s time to wake up.
Once you go to bed, keep the room cool and very dark — light can creep in even when your eyelids are shut.
That’s what happened in a 2022 study conducted by Zee that put healthy young adults in their 20s into a sleep lab. Sleeping for only one night with a dim light, such as a TV set with the sound off, raised blood sugar levels and heart rate, even when eyes were closed during sleep.
Another study by Zee found exposure to any amount of light during sleep was associated with diabetes, obesity and hypertension in older men and women.
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