“Spring Forward” Successfully

It’s March, which means the arrival of spring—and the start of daylight saving time.

While most people welcome the warmer temperatures and budding foliage that signals spring’s entrance, the transition to daylight saving time can be tough on kids and parents alike because it goes against Mother Nature.

“By setting our clocks ahead one hour, we are fighting our own biology,” says Kevin Carter, DO, a family and sleep medicine specialist with Kettering Health Network. “Losing an hour of sleep disrupts our circadian rhythm—the built-in ‘clock’ in our heads.”

Dr. Carter explains that light is a cue for waking and sleeping, so the sudden shift of changing your mechanical clocks can make it difficult to fall asleep and wake up at your usual times because those cues are coming an hour later than they did just the day before. “It takes several days to a week to adjust,” he says.

The consequences of sleep deficits

It doesn’t help that many people are already not getting enough sleep. “We are a chronically sleep-deprived nation,” Dr. Carter says, adding that the start of daylight saving time often sees an increase in events associated with sleep deprivation, from acute cardiovascular disease to motor vehicle collisions.

In children, “inattention, difficulty concentrating, sleepiness, behavioral problems, mood fluctuations, and ADHD-like symptoms can be related to insufficient sleep,” he says.

Quality also matters

Dr. Carter emphasizes the importance of getting not only a sufficient quantity of sleep, but also quality sleep—specifically, the deep, dream-producing sleep of the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. “Everything we learn during the day is consolidated in our memories during REM sleep,” he says. Because people cycle through non-REM and REM sleep several times during the night, “losing a whole hour of sleep, you could potentially miss a full REM cycle because of the time change.”

Easing the transition

Dr. Carter offers these tips to help your family adjust to the clock change that officially occurs this year on March 14 at 2 a.m.

  • Maintain your usual bedtime routine. And if you don’t already have a routine, create one. “Kids like structure, not chaos,” says Dr. Carter, whose own children are ages 10, 6 and 4. “Bath time should lead to teeth-brushing time, then to reading time, and bedtime. Wind-down time is very important—and helps parents, too.”
  • Gradual change is best. Instead of going to bed an hour early on the night the clocks change—which can be a stressful disruption of routine—plan ahead and adjust bedtimes by 15-minute increments in the four days before. “Eight days—two for each increment—is even better, but not as realistic for many families,” he says.
  • Dim the evening lights. “Light is the most powerful re-trainer,” says Dr. Carter. As the sun begins its descent, your body starts releasing melatonin—a natural sleep aid—four to six hours before the onset of natural sleep. “Artificial light has ruined people’s sleep because it suppresses the release of melatonin. Use dimmer switches and softer wattages to turn down the lights.”
  • Beware blue light. “Blue light is the most suppressive of melatonin,” Dr. Carter explains. “Avoid screens before bedtime—at least one hour, but try for more.” If someone must be on a device, such as studying late, use blue-light-blocking glasses, screen filters, or the device’s eye-saver, night, or sleep mode.
  • Use lights to help wakening. “Expose everyone to bright light first thing in the morning,” Dr. Carter advises. “There are lights that simulate light levels of the sun by progressively increasing brightness, or plug a lamp into a timer set to turn on at wake-up time.”

If you have been struggling with sleep, you might benefit from consulting a sleep specialist. Visit ketteringhealth.org/sleep or call 1-844-802-9410 to request an appointment.




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