How Does The Clocks Going Back Affect Your Sleep Patterns?

How Does The Clocks Going Back Affect Your Sleep Patterns?
Photo by Bhaskar Dutta via Getty Images

The winter time change is always more welcome than the summer robbing us of a precious hour, but what impact does this really have on our sleep?

We already feel a lot more tired as the sun drains out of the sky earlier and earlier, and it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything aside from eating potatoes.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to three sleep experts - Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, HuffPost UK Blogger and sleep and energy specialist at Nightingale Hospital, Professor Adrian Williams from The London Sleep Centre and Dr Sophie Bostock from Sleepio.

So does the time change affect your sleep?

Dr Bostock says: "The clock change means an abrupt shift in the external cues which help our internal body clock to maintain a 24-hour circadian rhythm track.

"These external time cues are called ‘zeitgebers’, and include light, temperature, exercise and food/drink intake. It can take several days for our internal biological clock to re-synchronise with a new schedule, whether it's a clock change or a timezone difference. For some people, this desynchrony leads to disrupted sleep, and feeling tired during the day."

Professor Williams however doesn't believe the time change affects your sleep, but he does believe the seasons can affect it.

"The lack of light exposure can affect a proportion of people in terms of mood but the one hour change in time isn't particularly important. People end up getting the same amount of sleep."

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For those us that do feel affected - whether it's talking about our mood or not - is there a difference when we wake up later?

"A misalignment between external cues and our internal bodyclock can also have more serious consequences," says Dr Bostock.

"For example, it has long been known that the risk of heart attacks spikes on Monday mornings. This is thought to be due to a combination of the stress of a new working week and sudden changes in our sleep-wake cycle. By studying the rates of heart attacks before and after the clock changes in the spring and autumn over four years, US researchers showed a 25% increase on the Monday following the shift to daylight saving time when clocks were rolled forwards, cutting our sleep. Conversely – and positively for next week - there was a 21% decrease in heart attacks when the clocks were rolled back in the Autumn."

So what is the best sleep practice for the winter months?

"It's avoiding bright light exposure at night," says Professor Williams, "which tends to delay the body clock and that includes cellphones and tablets - so they shouldn't be in the bedroom. Although many people use these things, there is a variable degree of difficulty with this kind of exposure."

Dr Bostock added: "Get up at the same time in the morning each day - which means giving yourself an extra hour in bed this weekend. It may still take take a few days to adjust to the new schedule, but routine is key for maintaining a consistent drive to sleep each evening.

*In the winter, with fewer hours of daylight overall, it’s important to seek out exposure to morning light where you can. Light is a strong cue to alert the internal clock, and daylight ensures it remains synchronised to the 24-hour day. Lack of light exposure during the day can result in a drift of the internal body clock to a longer than 24-hour rhythm, making it harder to get up in the morning in the winter.

Dr Ramlakhan gives her tips below:

1. Start getting in sync from Friday if you’re worried about how you’ll cope on Monday. Try to eat, sleep, wake to this time so that you are in sync by Sunday night

2. Get exercise – to keep energy levels high and to ensure you’re tired enough to get to sleep ‘earlier’ on Sunday night. Exercise earlier in day to avoid over-stimulation effect of evening exercise

3. Get outdoors into natural light as much as possible – this will help adjust the body’s circadian rhythm. Dim lights in evening to induce sleepiness

4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and go for sleep-inducing foods and drink – almond milk, oat crackers and peanut butter or cottage cheese, small bowl of yoghurt with granola or chopped nuts on top

5. Nap wisely – avoid napping after 4pm and only nap for 10 - 20mins and no more

6. If you can’t sleep on Sunday night, rest and don’t get too hung up about the time difference