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Are you ready to move your clocks forward an hour this weekend? That’s right — for most people in the United States, it’s time to “start” daylight saving time on Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 AM.
“For whatever reason, daylight saving time just overwhelms us,” said pediatrician Dr. Cora Colette Brunner, professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington’s division of pediatrics in Seattle.
Residents of Hawaii, most of Arizona, and the U.S. Pacific and Caribbean territories do not follow daylight savings time.
For people who adjust their clocks, the body won’t like getting up a full hour earlier, so it’s best if you and your kids start adjusting by going to bed and waking up 15 to 20 minutes earlier every day for four or more days before the change, experts say.
“Planning for change may be the key to reducing the impact of this change on your body’s circadian rhythms,” said sleep expert Dr. Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
Start adjusting the timing of other daily routines that are time sensitive to your body, too, such as meals, exercise and medications, she added.
Preparing ahead of time is an especially good plan for teenagers, who are naturally programmed to stay up and sleep late, and for anyone else in the family who is a night owl, said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Circadian and Sleep Center. Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Didn’t you do that? Do not despair. “It’s never too late to start,” Dasgupta said. “Sleep is very individualized and every child responds differently to the time change. Make sure you as a parent get the rest you need too, so you don’t get overly irritable with your child.”
Younger children tend to adjust to time changes a little better than older children and adults, Breuner said, so it may take fewer days to adjust.
Zee, who is also a professor of neurology at Feinberg, agreed: “For most younger children, moving their bedtime and wake-up time about 10 to 15 minutes earlier, starting three days before the time change, can help them to adjust to the social clock time change. until Monday morning,” he said.
If that’s not the case, expect some nagging until your child’s body adjusts and you’re ready to cut him some slack, Dasgupta said.
“In the days following daylight savings time, I try to be more lenient if my child has an extra tantrum,” she said.
There are other ways parents and caregivers can ease the transition, Breuner said. Put clothes out and get homework done before bed to reduce stress in the morning. It’s also a good idea to pack breakfast in case everyone is running late.
“That way they’re snacking on the bus or in the car instead of trying to sit down to a full breakfast when everyone’s like, ‘Wow, it’s an hour later,'” she said.
And “don’t let the kids sleep,” he added. “This just prolongs any adjustment to the time change.”
For everyone in the family, emerging lightness in the morning is good, experts say. When light enters your eyes, it’s a signal to the brain to turn off melatonin, the hormone your body produces to help you sleep.
“Have light breakfast for 20 to 30 minutes right after waking up,” Zee said. “Increase exposure to bright light at home, school and work for the rest of the morning.”
This strategy is especially important for teenagers and night owls, Zee said, and they should do it before and continue after daylight saving time starts to help adjust to the new time.
Breuner advocates for a “real hard rule” about keeping TVs, smartphones, laptops, gaming devices or any other electronic device out of the bedroom.
“Devices should be turned off and charged away from the bed, whether it’s in the kitchen or in a room other than the bedroom,” he said.
“We don’t secrete melatonin to help us sleep when we look at the light,” Breuner said.
When it comes to teenagers, don’t fall into the “I need my phone for an alarm in the morning and it helps me sleep at night,” she said. “Get up and get your iPod and listen to some music and get a regular alarm clock.”
If a child is struggling with depression or anxiety, not getting enough restful sleep can have serious consequences. “The likelihood that the child will have worse behavioral outcomes is higher,” he said.
The same rule for light applies to night, but in reverse, Zee said. She suggests avoiding bright light for at least three hours before bed: “This will allow your own melatonin to increase and promote sleep.”
Make sure your bedroom also promotes sleep, Zee added, by minimizing exposure to outside light with light-blocking shades or curtains. Keep the lights in the bedroom low and choose LED lights that have more reddish or brown tones.
Ban any lights in the blue spectrum from the bedroom, such as those emitted by electronic devices such as televisions, smartphones, tablets and laptops. Blue light is the most stimulating type of light, telling the brain it’s time to wake up.
Once you go to bed, keep the room cool and very dark—light can still get in even when your eyelids are closed.
That’s what happened in a 2022 study conducted by Zee, which put healthy young adults in their 20s into a sleep lab. Sleeping for just one night in dim light, such as a television with the sound off, increased blood sugar levels and heart rate, even when the eyes were closed during sleep.
Another study by Zee found that exposure to any amount of light during sleep was associated with diabetes, obesity and hypertension in older men and women.