Tips for Surviving Daylight Saving Time
Soon, Americans will set their clocks back one hour to end Daylight Saving Time (DST) and return to Standard Time (ST). Yes, it’s a pain in the neck, but it can also be a pain in the gut if you have chronic digestive disorders like IBS.1 Our digestive system is regulated by circadian rhythms. When those rhythms fall out of sync – even for just an hour – IBS flares can result.2
Here are a few tips and tricks I can offer as a credentialed sleep health educator for helping you – and your gut — survive the time change.
Act now before Daylight Saving Time
I swear by this simple process for gradually shifting my circadian rhythms when faced with the fall and spring clock changes. This gradual schedule shift, by 15-minute intervals, supports a natural circadian system reset and prevents any residual sleep deprivation.
This approach works for people who keep to regular bedtimes. My regular bedtime is at 11 p.m.
- On Wednesday before the time change, bedtime is 10:45 p.m.
- On Thursday, bedtime is 10:30 p.m.
- On Friday, bedtime is 10:15 p.m.
- On Saturday, bedtime is 10 p.m.
- On Sunday of the time change, bedtime is 11 p.m.
By the time you make it to Sunday night, you’ll be going to bed at your “new” time of 11 p.m., which is actually the same as 10 p.m. from the night before.
Don’t have morning obligations?
Where I live (Seattle), this time change means the mornings get super dark. I open the blinds on my windows at night right before the time change to allow natural light in. This prevents oversleeping in the rainy season; my body senses even the pale light of dawn and responds by awakening naturally. When spring dawn starts to peek through earlier than I like, I close my blinds at night.
For those with inconsistent sleep
Daylight Saving Time might be the perfect opportunity to prioritize a consistent bedtime. Wildly fluctuating bedtimes eventually lead to other kinds of health problems related to sleep loss.3 Your body will thank you for rethinking this habit. Simply start by picking one and sticking with it. Good sleep hygiene not only helps support good sleep, but it can also ease your IBS symptoms.4
When life intrudes on sleep
Job demands, parenting, and caregiving for others could make consistent bedtimes impossible (as well as create the perfect conditions for IBS flares).5 If this describes your life, take heart. Try stealing time for short naps prior to and following the time change to help you recuperate lost sleep.
Fortunately, this schedule reset is only a temporary hiccup in circadian patterns. Don’t stress too much about it if you feel a little out of sorts for up to a week following the clock change. Your body will recover.
What about melatonin?
This substance is a well-known circadian regulator. While you can buy it at the store, it’s also something our bodies naturally generate. Natural melatonin is secreted gradually with the reduction in light during the afternoon.
The body stores melatonin in the brain’s pineal gland, for sure, but you might be surprised to learn that the GI tract contains far more melatonin than the brain. Melatonin in the gut serves to reduce digestive system activity during sleep. It’s also known to reduce stomach acid, increase circulation in the GI tract, and improve the quality of the lining of the gut.
Researchers think IBS could benefit from melatonin supplements, but you’re best advised to discuss this approach with your doctor.6
4 tips to maintain sleep habits
We can pursue these “best practices” as a way to keep our circadian rhythms in balance and support our digestive and immune systems following the upcoming time change and beyond.
- Stick to a consistent bedtime/rise time schedule.
- Avoid eating at least 2 hours before bedtime; if forced to eat later than usual, try lighter meals that avoid high-fat foods and caffeine.
- Endeavor to get at least 20 minutes of natural light first thing in the morning. In the south, sunlight outside should be enough. For those in the north, seasonal darkness may inspire the support of a phototherapy device (AKA, a “happy light”) to get your morning dose of light.
- Another morning habit to consider: mild exercise, which provides a powerful circadian reset.
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