The clocks spring forward every spring and fall back every fall — and every time they do, it takes your body about a week to adjust to the shift in schedule. At least, that’s what the science says. The adjustment sounds like it would easier at the end of daylight saving time in autumn. You get an extra hour of sleep, hooray! As the temperature drops and your blankets seem cozier than ever, that extra rest is all too welcome. But even though you technically gain an extra hour in your day, you might not be using it for sleep.
Anthony Komaroff, M.D., writes in the Harvard Health Letter that only a minority of people are actually getting an extra hour of sleep once the clocks change. People also tend to have a greater difficulty falling asleep at their usual bedtime in the week thereafter. This makes sense — our circadian rhythms are set in alignment with the usual 24-hour cycle. Even a shift as small as one hour can have an impact.
A study published in The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research showed that despite the extra hour available for sleep the night of the switch, people actually spent less time asleep and lying in bed. However, sleep quality was not significantly affected; people generally slept through the night and didn’t suffer any other abnormal sleep disruption. Even though people slept fewer hours, the fall clock change was still an easier transition than in the spring, when everyone loses an hour of precious sleep. In the spring, people did suffer a poorer sleep quality.
The autumn clock change has other positive effects on the body, as well. A study published in the journal Ergonimics showed that people’s moods improved after the fall transition. People believed that their sleep improved after the switch and even performed better on cognitive tests.
But despite some potential benefit, the clock change isn’t an easy adjustment. Research shows that it’s going to take around a week to get back on track — and the change is especially difficult for people who habitually sleep less than 7.5 hours per night. Are you getting the rest you need? With so many harmful effects of sleep-deprivation, it can’t hurt to be prepared.
The night before the clocks fall back, maybe you should fall face-first into bed just a little earlier than usual — and fall right asleep if you can. These simple bedtime rituals could help you get a better night’s rest.