If you’ve been starting your day in near-total darkness each morning, relief is in sight: November 2 marks the end of daylight saving time (in most of the country) and the day when your clocks “fall back” an hour. That means you’ll get a bonus hour of light in the morning, but lose an hour in the afternoon.
Although the prospect of leaving work when it’s dark out may be depressing, sleep specialist and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, reminds us to count our blessings.
“Believe it or not, people have an easier time adjusting to this time change than to the one in March,” Breus said. “That’s because we gain an hour of sleep in the fall, but end up losing an hour when we ‘spring ahead.’”
Here, how to make the transition to standard time as seamless as possible, plus some silver linings to the time change.
Don’t change your routine on November 1
The night before the time change, just go to bed when you usually do, Breus advised.
“Most people are already sleep deprived, so in all likelihood you could use the extra hour of sleep you’ll get,” he said. “Think of it as your own little hour-long staycation.”
Use it as a sleep hygiene checkup
You can use the time change to diagnose your sleep habits. Before bedtime on November 1, set your clock back an hour (cell phones will be updated automatically at 2am), and keep your alarm set for your regular wake up time.
“If you find yourself sleeping for the entire extra hour in the morning, that’s a sign you’re sleep deprived,” Breus said.
If, on the other hand, you wake up before your alarm goes off, that’s your body telling you that you’re getting enough sleep.
“The fall time change is a once-a-year opportunity to calibrate your ideal bedtime.”
After the time change, maximize your sun exposure…
Even after the fall back, it’s not uncommon to feel out of sorts the first few days of November. It doesn’t help that the sun will start setting close to 5 p.m. So what should you do?
While your afternoon mood might take a hit because of the looming darkness, Breus advised taking advantage of the extra sunlight in the morning, which can give you a mood boost to start the day. If you tend to work out in the evenings, switch your routine to the morning. At the very least, make an effort get outside during your lunch break, if only just to take a walk around the block.
…and maybe boost your indoor light
If you’re still feeling draggy in the afternoon after a few days, consider investing in a light therapy box, which can counteract your brain’s inclination to start producing melatonin when the sun goes down. Just be sure to look for one that provides alertness-promoting blue light.
“Blue light mimics sunlight and tells the brain to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that starts your brain’s sleep engine,” Breus explained.
If you need a little burst to get over that 4 p.m. hump at work, click on the light and let it shine for no more than 20 minutes.
“That amount should be enough to make you feel more alert for a couple hours,” Breus explained. If you want to get to bed at a reasonable hour, be sure not to use the light after 7pm; any later than that can interfere with your sleep.
Breus likes the Philips goLITE BLU ($137, amazon.com), but Amazon has a range of light therapy box styles and sizes. Don’t want to buy another gadget? Definity Digital by LightingScience makes alertness-promoting bulbs you can install in most household fixtures ($70, amazon.com).
And if you have kids…
The downside to falling back is that small children, already allergic to spending extra time in bed, may actually start waking up an hour earlier. (I foresee this gloomy prospect in my own household, where my 5-year-old and 2-year-old, already attuned to a 6 a.m. wake up, will go right on waking up at the same time, which will actually be 5 a.m. come November 2.)
Here’s how to get them to get with the program.
“Starting about a week or so before the time change, every two days put your kids to bed 15 minutes later, in a stair-stepping pattern,” Breus said.
In other words, on October 25, put your kids to bed 15 minutes later. Then again on October 27 and October 29, so that by October 31, they’re going to bed an hour later. (Added bonus: an extra hour of candy-fueled capering on Halloween!) When November 2 arrives, they’ll be acclimated to going to bed an hour later, and—in theory, at least—waking up an hour later that morning, which will wash out when the clocks reset.
And if the bedtime rollback plan doesn’t take? Breus suggested making the morning of November 2 a special occasion. The night before, lay out books or games the kids can play with quietly when they wake up. Set an alarm in their room(s) for when you’ll wake up and tell them it’s bonus playtime and they don’t have to bother mom and dad!
If the thought of your kids quietly reading and biding their time until the sun comes up sounds preposterous, don’t hesitate to bring out the big guns.
“Even setting your kids up to watch a video in the early morning is okay in this instance,” said Breus. “In all likelihood, the parents could use that extra hour of sleep, so do whatever it takes to take advantage of it.”