Clock Confusion: How Daylight Saving Can Impact Your Sleep Routines

As we shift our clocks at the beginning and end of daylight saving in Australia, many of us let out a sigh. We know it’s going to be a struggle to adjust our body clocks to the time change.

Why does the measly one-hour time-shift affect our sleep routines? And how can we make the transition to and from daylight saving time easier?

The answer lies in understanding how light affects our circadian rhythms (the internal process that controls the sleep-wake cycle).

Here, we arm you with better knowledge of your body clock, with tips on how to adjust your sleeping schedule for daylight saving.

How Does Daylight Saving Work in Australia?

In Australia, the States and Territories that observe daylight saving are:

• New South Wales
• Victoria
• South Australia
• Tasmania

The hour-shift in spring gives as extra evening sunlight until April. This has flow on benefits for things like energy consumption and economic activity.

Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia do not observe daylight saving. Since they all have vast areas of land closer to the equator, there is less variation in daylight length between winter and summer. That means there’s not as great a need for a shift in the clock.

Daylight saving begins on the first Sunday in October — at 2am — when the clocks advance by one hour. It ends on the first Sunday in April — again, at 2am — when the clocks are turned back one hour.

To remember which is which, in springtime we “spring forward” an hour. In Autumn, we “fall back” (fall is an American term for Autumn).

How Does Daylight Saving Impact your sleep schedule?

Daylight saving can have an impact on your sleep schedule if you aren’t prepared.

The shift to daylight saving means mornings are darker and evenings are lighter. And the change in pattern of light and dark is what throws your body clock off kilter.

That’s because our circadian rhythms (the internal process that controls the sleep-wake cycle) are in sync with the solar day.

So the beginning of daylight saving messes with our circadian rhythms. Our alarm-clocks tell us to wake while our body clock insists it’s still time to sleep. And our body clocks tell us to keep partying when our watches are reminding us we should hit the hay. 

This can lead to sleep loss or poorer quality sleep, which can last for a few days (and sometimes longer). Poor sleep can impact things like daytime alertness and moods.

Older adults, children, shift workers and people with insomnia may find it harder to adjust after the time change.

The end of daylight saving (when the clocks go back an hour) is usually not as difficult for your body clock to adjust to.

How can I adjust my sleep schedule during daylight saving?

Even if you dread daylight saving time changes, the good news is that you can take steps to adjust your body clock more easily.

There are evidence-backed strategies you can try:

• Gradually shift your bedtime 15 to 20 minutes earlier in the week leading up to daylight saving.
• Make sure you get out in the morning sunlight.
• Avoid screens/blue light before bed which can disrupt circadian rhythms.
• Get regular exercise, preferably outside.
• Prioritise healthy sleep habits.

With a little planning, most people adjust to daylight saving within a few days. If you’re still having trouble sleeping after a week or more from the time change, speak with your GP or pharmacist.

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