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You know the old saying, “fall back, spring ahead”? Well, it’s that time of year again. On Sunday, March 10 at 2 a.m., we move the clocks forward one hour to begin daylight saving time. That means the sun will set later -- giving you more time to enjoy the day -- but if you aren’t prepared to “lose” an hour of sleep, the change can feel exhausting.
We talked to women’s health expert Dr. Saralyn Mark about preparing for the time change and what an extra hour of sunlight can do for us.
Q: Why does daylight saving time feel like such a setback?
Dr. Saralyn Mark: Getting the right amount of quality sleep is vital to good health and well-being. Yet it’s a precious resource in short supply. Stress, work overload, family schedules, insomnia, menopause -- so many things already interfere with sleep that the change to daylight saving time does present a real challenge. Our biological clocks are programmed to react to sunlight, so when we "spring forward," people tend to want to stay up later and sleep in longer. There are steps you can take to prepare your body for the change, but it shouldn't take more than a few days to adjust to the new time schedule.
Q: How can we prepare ourselves -- and our kids -- in the days leading up to the time change?
Dr. Mark: One of the best ways to adjust to the time change is to ease into it. I bet most of us stick to our regular schedules up until the point where we have to move the clock up an hour, which is jarring. Try going to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier a few nights before the time change so you get into a natural rhythm of going to sleep sooner. If you have a baby or toddler, try getting your child to sleep 10 minutes earlier each day. Don't pressure your child; instead darken the nursery or bedroom and spend some quiet time reading and cuddling to ease the transition.
Try avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evenings, consider keeping pets outside of your bedroom, set your room's temperature at a comfortable level, and spend some time before you sleep unwinding to reduce stress.
Q: Will the extra hour of daylight help to alleviate those winter blues?
Dr. Mark: There are a fair number of people who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which does disproportionately kick in during the fall and winter months when the days are shorter and nights are longer (though it can develop at the onset of any new season). Some research suggests that an increase in sunlight boosts serotonin and decreases melatonin levels, which perhaps enhances mood during the spring and summer months.
Q: What can we do to enhance health with that extra hour of evening light?
Dr. Mark: Get outside! Seriously, use the longer day to spend active time outdoors with friends and family, which also will increase your vitamin D exposure. While prolonged exposure to direct sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer, research also indicates that it's helpful to get 5 to 10 minutes of sunlight exposure to the arms and legs, or the hands, arms and face, about 2 or 3 times per week. I suggest getting out for brisk walks with a friend (the social interaction alone enhances health greatly), taking your kids to the playground, hitting the bike trails or spending time doing yard work. Use the longer day to spend more quality time with the ones you love and to increase your physical fitness.