Getting up after 'falling back' when daylight saving time ends, sunlight dwindles

Fall time shift, winter drop in sunlight put mind, body though changes


About one in every three American adults already doesn’t get enough sleep, and the end of daylight-saving time can throw another wrench into the equation — even though the day “gains” an hour in the fall rather than losing one toward the spring.

“Either way, biologically, you’re changing your circadian rhythm, the biological clock we live by,” said Danielle Hicks, a psychology instructor at Front Range Community College in Westminster.

The ensuing sleep disruption can come with a host of hurdles: mood problems, struggles with focusing, less precise control of movements and, of course, throwing off the sleep-wake cycle.

People also may be more emotional or may not receive information as well as usual, Hicks said.

“It feels as if you’re jet-lagged,” Hicks said. “I would ask yourself, if you’re jet-lagged, are you going to work on heavy machinery? Are you going to lead a major meeting? Are you going to make major decisions?”

Daylight-saving time ended in the wee morning hours Nov. 3, but the days are still approaching the “shortest day of the year” in late December — when daytime is shortest and night is longest — at the winter solstice, marking the start of that season.

That’s important for sleep because when the day gets dim, the body increases its amount of a hormone called melatonin, which helps induce sleep. After the fall time change, light in the morning — earlier than the biological clock expects it — can put a damper on that extra hour of sleep because it reduces melatonin, according to Hicks.

But the natural change in light as seasons change is more subtle than the human-made daylight-saving time, said Kristy Dykema, a psychology professor at Front Range.

“Daylight-saving time, that’s a more acute shift. Smaller, but more drastic in terms of how much time we have to prepare for it and adjust to it,” Dykema said.

Deeper effects

As some adjust to the time change, they may not be out of the woods just yet. They may still be feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.

“For people (for) whom the adjustment in the first couple weeks is not sufficient to alleviate the symptoms, the symptoms can continue to be a challenge as the sunlight continues to decrease,” said Allison Hagood, a psychology professor at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton.

The disorder can include loss of interest in things a person used to enjoy, boredom, apathy and sadness, according to Hagood. Feeling sluggish, social withdrawal and even having thoughts of death or suicide also could be symptoms.

“People who don’t have a diagnosis can experience those symptoms to a lesser extent,” Hagood said. “Not across the board, but there is an increased likelihood. Most people who don’t have a diagnosis will see the (symptoms decrease) within a few weeks.”

‘More regular routine’

Acknowledging that the time change can present hurdles is the first step to adjusting, Hagood said.

“Recognize that these changes in one’s self are possible,” Hagood said. “Our society is built on this idea of continuing through no matter what — continuing to work and be in one’s life the same way no matter what happens.”

At the start, tweaking a sleep schedule by 15 minutes each day leading up to the time change can help, Hicks said. That same strategy can work for kids, she added.

Sticking with predictable patterns, such as eating around the same time each day, also can help adjust, Hicks said.

Teenagers need roughly the same amount of sleep as adults but fall asleep later, Hagood said, and the time shift can hit them hard because they’re already sleep-deprived.

“My first suggestion is to work on having a more regular routine, even on the weekends,” Hicks said for teens. “Because they want to sleep in on the weekends, but that’s confusing their bodies with the increase and decrease in melatonin.”

Keep pets in mind

Even furry friends can be thrown by the time change as their meals or walks come at different times.

“The interesting thing about pets is that without humans, they don’t have a clock — they just eat when they eat and sleep when they sleep. They have their own internal routine,” Hicks said.

As with people, gradually shifting pets’ activities leading up to the time change can do the trick to help them adjust, Hicks said.


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