The extra hour of afternoon darkness can be especially hard for people who are “vulnerable to feeling down in the autumn and winter — which is an awful lot of people,” said Norman E. Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine who coined the term “seasonal affective disorder.” “They may be low-energy, lethargic, prone to overeating and just out of sorts for a while.”
Here’s how to prepare for the change, and the darker season to come.
Embrace the extra hour of sleep.
Many people — if they’re not working the night shift or parenting a small child — will get an extra hour of sleep on the morning after the clocks change. And that’s “going to enable them to function better,” said Elizabeth B. Klerman, a professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. More than a third of Americans are sleep-deprived, which can have detrimental effects on mood, memory and health.
If you can’t sleep the extra hour — or you just want a smoother transition — try shifting your bedtime 30 minutes later a few days in advance, so that by Sunday, the time on the clock is closer to the time your body feels it is, said Jennifer Martin, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and president of the board of directors for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That means, though, that you should also be sleeping 30 minutes later in the mornings, which isn’t feasible for everyone. (For what it’s worth, you can try this with your kids, too.)
Extra time in bed sounds glorious to some, but it can be hard if you struggle with insomnia, said Dr. Martin, because “the night basically just got an hour longer.” In that case, focus on keeping the time you spend in bed the same, rather than the time you fall asleep. So if you usually spend eight hours in bed — say, between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. — go to bed an hour later on Saturday night, which may reduce your chances of lying awake during the night.
Move your workout.
It can be demoralizing to find that the pleasant afternoon stroll you’ve been accustomed to is now a gloomy trudge through the dark. Shifting your walk, run or bike ride to the morning means you’ll get a dose of direct morning light, which is important for regulating sleeping and waking habits. Your cortisol spikes, giving you energy, and your brain stops producing the sleep hormone melatonin.