How to (Really) Get an Hour of Extra Sleep This Daylight Savings

Daylight Savings is ending this weekend! It's that almost holiday-like autumnal midnight when we "fall back," and (supposedly) gain an hour of sleep. It was always such a welcome event in my house, until I had young children, whose body clocks were rarely influenced by time zones or central clocks. Nobody could tell them to sleep an hour late, nor would they be consoled when darkness forced them inside earlier than usual.


Teenagers, of course, relished the extra hour of video game play, but at they least let me relish the extra hour of shut-eye.


Now, in the throes of perimenopause when sleep is such a challenge anyway, I am feeling this meme on a soul level:


Tell me I’m not alone! Adding insult to insomnia, this time of year can be fraught with mental health challenges, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even when you can count on consistent sleep. Yay.


Nonetheless, there is hope. There are things we can do to better adjust to this annual phenomenon; there are some supplements to help ease us into sleep and to awake refreshed; and there are ways to adjust more quickly on the other side of the time change. They may even help us shake the blues. Let’s look at a few of them.


Get a Head Start.


Three days prior to the time change, shift your mealtimes and bedtime frame by 30-45 minutes. If you’re accustomed to eating dinner at 6:30 pm, push that to 7 or 7:15; likewise, if you are generally horizontal between 10 pm and 6 am, shift that frame to 10:30-6:30. Finally, aim to break your overnight fast 30-45 minutes later than usual, and do so with a high-protein breakfast.


After the time change, resume your normal schedule.


Summary:

3 days before time change:

  • Eat dinner and breakfast 30-45 minutes later than usual.

  • Break your overnight fast with a high-protein breakfast.

  • Shift the hours you spend in bed 30-45 minutes later.

  • Return to your regular schedule after the time change.

 

Early Morning Sunshine.


After the time change is the perfect time to tighten up some habits to help you sleep better every night. If you’ve read any of my writings on sleep, you’ll probably recognize the next slogan:


“A good night’s sleep starts in the morning.”

It’s one of my faves, because it’s so simple yet so powerful.


Exposure to sunlight, particularly before 10 am, helps to set your circadian rhythm by triggering the brain to create serotonin for your day. At night, when you’re not exposed to too much white and blue light, that serotonin is converted to melatonin, which helps you get sleepy in time to catch some zzz’s.


Early morning is also prime time to catch some rays for vitamin D production. Try to get out for 30 minutes or so, exposing your face, eyes, and arms (at least) to the sun. Your sleep – and your mood – should improve as a result.


Summary:

After the time change:

  • Get at least 30 minutes sun exposure before 10 am daily.

 

Exercise Every Day (even if it’s just a little).


According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), just 15 minutes of daily exercise can improve mental health. It can also go a long way in relieving some of the joint and muscle pain that bothers approximately 50% of us. And, wonder of all wonders, help us fall asleep and stay asleep.


Summary:

  • As little as 15 minutes of daily exercise will improve mental health and your ability to achieve good sleep.

Turn Bedtime into a Ritual.


Create a sacred practice around getting ready for bed. Include things like a warm bath with magnesium-rich Epsom salt, hot tea, and candlelight. Eschew screens for reading, meditation, and conversation. Allow nothing but peace to permeate the hour before bed. Doing so will cue your body and brain to wind down into blissful sleep.

If staying asleep is problematic for you as it is for so many of us, incorporate calming white noise such as rain sounds and meditative breathing practices to help you return to sleep. And at all costs, keep lights low and resist nighttime snacking to avoid interfering with your brain’s neurotransmitter washing.


Summary:

  • Create a ritual of calming activities around bedtime.

  • Avoid activities that will interfere with circadian rhythm, such as using bright lights and snacking, if you wake during the night.

 

When all else fails, supplement.


I always suggest adjusting behaviors before adding supplements. But sometimes that’s just not quite enough, especially when there are other things such as muscle and joint pain and racing thoughts that are complicating things. Many don’t do well with melatonin – it can leave some groggy in the mornings. If this is true for you, there is still hope. Excellent supplements that can aid sleep in some (okay, most) women …

  • Magnesium glycinate - known to relax muscles and thoughts

  • Ashwaganda - an herb in the class known as nootropics, which act on brain chemistry as an anxiolytic. Especially helpful to calm anxiety, and can help fight hot flashes and low libido.

  • 5-HTP - a natural precursor upstream from serotonin and melatonin

 

In the end, precious sleep can best be obtained and maintained by keeping consistent meal, exercise, and sleep schedules. When something unavoidable comes up, like daylight savings and you live anywhere but Arizona, let your rituals rescue you.