Fall Back: How the Time Change Affects Sleep, Mood, and Health

As autumn arrives, so does the tradition of resetting the clocks from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time. While the “Fall Back” transition, where we gain an extra hour of sleep by turning the clocks back, might seem like a gift, it disrupts our body’s internal clock, affecting sleep, mood, and overall health. In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of how this seemingly small adjustment can have profound effects on our well-being. Delving into the repercussions of this time shift allows us to prepare and adapt, equipping us with the knowledge to mitigate its effects and foster a healthier transition.

Effects on Sleep

Setting the clocks back an hour affects our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This disruption often leads to difficulties in falling asleep at the new bedtime and waking up at the adjusted time. As a result, individuals might experience sleep disturbances, finding it challenging to obtain the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Adjust gradually. To mitigate the impact on sleep, we recommend making gradual adjustments to your bedtime in the days leading up to the time change. This can include shifting bedtime by 15-30 minutes in the days leading up to the time change. Also, waking up a bit earlier each morning will help the body adapt to the new schedule. By making these incremental changes, the body’s internal clock will more gradually align with the adjusted time.

Be consistent. Maintaining a consistent sleep routine is crucial. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate the body’s internal clock. This consistency supports better sleep quality and overall well-being. Read more about Dr. Jaffe’s Eight Sleep Tips for a Long and Healthy Life and learn about Dr. Jaffe’s sleep ritual.

Optimize Light. Maximizing exposure to natural light in the mornings can aid in resetting the body’s internal clock. Sunlight exposure helps regulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep-wake cycles. We recommend spending time outdoors in the morning to help your body adjust to the time change.

Create a relaxing environment. A sleep-conducive environment will help you relax and drift into sleep more readily. This includes keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, using comfortable bedding, and limiting exposure to screens before bedtime. Establishing a relaxing pre-sleep routine, such as taking a salt and soda bath, reading, abdominal breathing, or practicing relaxation techniques, can signal the body that it’s time to wind down. Read more about Restorative Sleep. 

Effects on Mood

Changing the clocks back to Standard Time can also affect our overall mood and emotional well-being. Disrupted sleep, along with reduced exposure to daylight, can play a substantial role in shaping our emotional state.

Sleep Disruption and Mood Changes. Both the quantity and quality of sleep can be disrupted as our body shifts to a new rhythm. This can cause irritability, increased stress, and a general sense of fatigue, which can impact overall emotional resilience throughout the day.

Mental Health and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The reduction in daylight hours following the “Fall back” transition can trigger or exacerbate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in susceptible individuals. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at specific times of the year, typically in the fall and winter, due to reduced exposure to natural sunlight. Symptoms of SAD can include low energy, oversleeping, changes in appetite, and feelings of hopelessness or despair.

Coping Strategies. To mitigate the impact of both the time change and the reduction of daylight hours on mood, individuals can implement various strategies. Light therapy, exposure to artificial bright light sources, can help combat the effects of reduced daylight hours. Regular exercise, which can boost mood through the release of endorphins, is also beneficial. Dichroic green light therapy can also be helpful. Maintaining a healthy gut will help to boost the serotonin in your body and brain, leading to improved mood. Engaging in social activities, seeking emotional support, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can also assist in managing stress and enhancing overall mood. Read more about these and other ways to Beat the Blues and Blahs this Fall.

Maintaining a balanced lifestyle is crucial for supporting mental well-being during the darker and colder months. Be sure to seek professional help if experiencing persistent mood changes or symptoms of depression.

Effects on Overall Health

Setting the clocks back, in addition to its effects on sleep and mood, can also have broader consequences for overall health.

Increased stress. Disrupted sleep resulting from the time change can be associated with increased stress, which can impact the body’s ability to regulate hormones. This can lead to heightened levels of cortisol in the body. Prolonged stress and irregular sleep patterns have been linked to weakened immune function, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart problems, diabetes, and obesity. There has been a documented rise in the number of reported heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems in the days immediately following the time transition.

Mitigating overall health effects. To minimize the impact of the time change on overall health, prioritizing adequate sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep routine are crucial, as mentioned above. Additionally, practicing stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness or relaxation exercises, can help manage the physiological effects of disrupted sleep. Engaging in regular exercise not only contributes to better sleep but also aids in managing stress and improving cardiovascular health. A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can further enhance the body’s resilience. Read our blog post on Stress, Inflammation, and Autoimmunity for some more great tips on reducing stress. Music-Enhanced Meditation can also be beneficial for stress relief.

In summary, to minimize the effects of the upcoming time change, you’ll want to adjust gradually, adhere to a consistent sleep schedule and nighttime routine and create a sleep-conducive environment. Optimize your exposure to natural light, and supplement with light therapy if and when needed. Exposure to dichroic green light for 20 minutes twice a day can also be beneficial for overall health.  Be sure to get regular exercise and social interaction, and implement a relaxation practice. Eat a well-balanced diet filled with various whole foods prepared in a variety of ways. Review our “Nature’s pHarmacy Principles to Eat by”, Part 1, and Part 2. And do your best to minimize stress.

Be patient with the adjustment process. It may take a few days for the body to adapt fully to the new time. Being flexible with schedule adjustments in your day-to-day routine and allowing time for the body to acclimate is essential. To enhance productivity during this transition, you can gradually adjust your daily routines, allowing time for the body to adapt. This might involve scheduling important tasks when feeling most alert and focused, and taking regular breaks to manage fatigue.

With proper planning, the effects of the impact of the impending time change can be minimized.

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