Twice a year, many places, such as the UK, many European countries, and many states within the US, change their clocks, commonly referred to as daylight saving time. It involves setting the clocks forward in the spring, and then back in the autumn, in order to gain an extra hour of daylight during the dark winter months.
While the extra hour of sleep gained when the clocks fall back may seem enticing, the adjustment can have a more profound impact on our sleep patterns and overall health than you might expect.
In this article, we’ll dive into the scientific aspects of how the clocks going back in the UK can affect your sleep.
The Circadian Rhythm
To understand the implications of turning back the clock, it's essential to understand the concept of the circadian rhythm. Our bodies are biologically programmed to follow a 24-hour internal clock, regulating various physiological processes, including sleep-wake cycles.
This circadian rhythm is largely influenced by external cues, with natural light being the most crucial factor. As a result, it can become severely disrupted when time zones change, either by moving to a new country - or the country you are in
There are plenty of benefits to daylight saving, and it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing it removed anytime soon - but it can certainly impact our sleep.
The Impact of Clocks Changing on Sleep
When the clocks go back in the UK, we effectively shift our external time by one hour, but our internal body clock doesn't adjust as quickly. This misalignment can disrupt our sleep patterns and have several consequences for our health.
- Disrupted Sleep Routine: As we set our clocks back, we may find it more challenging to fall asleep at the usual time. Our bodies still want to adhere to the previous schedule, making it harder to adjust to the new time.
- Reduced Exposure to Natural Light: With the onset of winter, the days become shorter, and we experience less natural light. When coupled with the shift in the clock, this reduction in light exposure can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in some individuals, leading to symptoms like depression and sleep disturbances.
- Sleep Fragmentation: Our sleep quality may also suffer during the transition. The abrupt change in time can lead to sleep fragmentation, where we wake up more frequently during the night. This can result in grogginess and a feeling of unrest upon waking.
- Increased Risk of Health Issues: Disrupted sleep patterns, particularly in the context of daylight saving time, have been linked to an increased risk of various health issues, such as heart problems, increased stress levels, and a compromised immune system.
Here are a number of ways of counteracting the negative effects of daylight saving.
How to minimise the effects of the clocks changing
While the clock change can indeed affect your sleep negatively, there are several strategies to help minimise its impact:
In the days leading up to the clock change, try going to bed and waking up 15-30 minutes earlier each day. This gradual adjustment can help your body align with the new time more smoothly.
Expose Yourself to Morning Light
Maximising your exposure to natural light in the morning can help reset your internal clock. Consider taking a brisk walk or opening your curtains to let in more daylight.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Regardless of the clock change, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Limit Caffeine and Screen Time
Reduce your caffeine intake and avoid screens (phones, tablets, TVs) in the evening, as the blue light emitted can interfere with your body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
The clocks changing can disrupt our sleep patterns and impact our overall well-being. Understanding the importance of our circadian rhythm and implementing strategies to mitigate these effects is crucial to ensuring you still get a top night’s sleep.
By being mindful of our sleep routines and the quality of our light exposure, we can help ensure a smoother transition during this time of and keep on track with our sleep goals.