In spring, the clocks go forward one hour. In the autumn, the clocks go back an hour. Not only can this affect how much daylight we get, but it can also interfere with our sleep. Read below to find out why we change the clocks, and how you can continue to sleep well. The clocks change, but your sleep quality doesn’t have to.

Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?

Edwardian builder William Willett introduced the idea of Daylight Saving Time, or British Summer Time, in 1907. A lover of the outdoors, Willett noticed that, during the summer, people were still asleep after the sun had risen. He wanted people to stop wasting these valuable daylight hours. In Willet’s time, the clocks were set to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This meant that it was light by 3 a.m. and dark at 9 p.m. during the summer.1

Willett published a pamphlet called “The Waste of Daylight”. The pamphlet was designed to get people out of bed earlier in the day by changing the clocks. He argued that this would improve everyone’s health and happiness, and that it would also save the country £2.5 million. And then, in the autumn, the clocks should be returned to GMT.2

In 1916, the UK introduced Daylight Saving Time. With the clocks moved forward, people could now enjoy the perks of summer with more time to spend in the daylight. However, sleep can be affected when the clocks change – whether it’s forward or back.3

How Is Your Sleep Affected When the Clocks Go Forward?

When the clocks spring forward, they can bring many positives – better weather, long summer nights, and lighter mornings. However, there is a negative, too: we lose one hour of sleep. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference. It can be surprisingly challenging and waking up on Monday morning is even harder than it normally is. Moving the clocks in either direction can reset your circadian rhythm – an inner body clock that decides when we’re alert, and when we’re sleepy. When the clocks change, our internal body clock becomes out on sync with our normal sleep-wake cycle. This means that you could be awake when you’d rather be sleeping, or vice versa. Read more about the circadian rhythm here.

Also, with spring comes more daylight. Light affects your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. The more light there is, the less melatonin is produced. This means that you won’t feel as tired in the evening, which can make it hard to get to sleep at night.

The good news is that you can adapt to the new cycle. Within a day, you should feel fine, as our bodies are generally good at adjusting to one-hour changes. Some people will feel little effect from the clocks changing, but some may notice that they haven’t had a good sleep.4

If you have a good sleep pattern established and go to bed slightly earlier the night before the clock goes forward, then you’ll likely wake up feeling refreshed as normal. However, if you’re already sleeping less than you should, then you could feel irritable, moody, and tired when you wake up. You’ll also likely be sleepy during the day and may find it hard to concentrate.

How Can You Sleep Well When the Clocks Go Forward?

Adjust your bedtime routine. Move your bedtime forward a little bit, even it’s just by ten minutes or so, in the days approaching the clocks going forward. This way, you won’t really have lost any sleep when the clocks change on Sunday.

Go outdoors. During the day, you should go outside and get some fresh air. This is especially important if you feel tired during the day, as the sunlight will help to reset your circadian rhythm. This is because the circadian rhythm is influenced by light, which is why you’re awake during the day and asleep at night.

Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. These stimulants will keep you alert when you want to be sleepy. This means that your sleep quality will be damaged as you won’t get the full sleep you need.

Get some exercise. Exercising is a great way to help yourself sleep well – especially outdoors, if possible. The exposure to sunlight will help your circadian rhythm to adapt to the new day/ night cycle, while exercising will help you to feel tired in the evening. However, make sure you don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as this could keep you alert when you want to go to sleep. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.

Have a healthy sleeping environment. Make sure that your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark, and clutter-free. Also, check that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.

Avoid looking at screens. Keeping away from the TV, phone, computer, or laptop for about an hour before you go to bed is a great way to help yourself relax in order to get a good sleep. Read a book instead, have a soothing bath, or create another relaxing bedtime routine.

How Is Your Sleep Affected When the Clocks Go Back?

Just as summer’s extra light influences your circadian rhythm, the decrease in the amount of daylight in autumn can interfere with it, too. As light affects the release of melatonin, less light exposure means that more melatonin is produced. This’ll make you feel sluggish or more tired than usual. You don’t necessarily need more sleep during autumn or winter – you just feel more tired. Getting up in the morning is harder as the mornings are dark, and our circadian rhythm is used to telling us to sleep when it’s dark. So, when the clocks go back to GMT, we’re back to square one: adjusting to a new sleep-wake cycle when we just want to sleep. When the clocks go back, you get an extra hour of sleep. Yet, if you haven’t already got a good sleep pattern established, you may not feel the benefits of this.

How Can You Sleep Well When the Clocks Go Back?

Let the sun shine. It’s easy to flick on the lights in the morning to help yourself wake up, but sunlight is even better. Less sunlight not only increases your levels of melatonin, but it can also lower your levels of vitamin D, which can leave you feeling fatigued. Get sunlight on your face as soon as possible. This is easier said than done when the mornings are dark during autumn and winter, so go for a walk in the afternoon if you can. In the evenings, dim the indoor lights to let your body know that it’s time to relax.

Keep the heat down. While it’s tempting to turn up the heat or put on an open fire to fend off autumn’s crisp chill, it’s actually better to have your house – or at least the bedroom – cool. By keeping your room at the ideal temperature of 16 °C – 18°C, you’ll keep yourself at a steady, comfortable temperature for a peaceful snooze.

Exercise regularly. Motivating yourself to exercise in the dark and cold autumn is a challenge, but you’ll feel refreshed after even thirty minutes of exercising. Exercising outdoors will help you get as much sunlight on your face as possible. This’ll help your circadian rhythm to adjust to the new day/ night cycle, while the exercise itself will help you to feel tired in the evening. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime.

Avoid technology. Keep away from your phone, TV, computer, or tablet about an hour before you go to sleep. This’ll help your body to understand that it’s time to relax. Read a book instead, have a soothing bath, or create another relaxing bedtime routine.

Keep a regular bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This includes weekends – no lie ins! Having a regular bedtime routine will make sure you get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. If you get the sleep you need, getting up in the morning won’t be as hard.

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Footnotes

  1. https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/clocks-fall-back-as-we-head-into-the-sleep-season/
  2. https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/clocks-fall-back-as-we-head-into-the-sleep-season/
  3. https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/clocks-fall-back-as-we-head-into-the-sleep-season/
  4. https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-sleep-is-affected-by-the-clocks-going-forward/
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