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An expert explains how the clock change affects your sleep

A woman with dark hair taps the top of a white alarm clock to stop it from ringing
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At 2 am local time on Sunday November 7, Daylight saving time (DST) ends in the US, which means the clocks go back by one hour. And while this gives us an extra hour in bed, it can also have a knock-on effect, which feels similar to jet lag. 

We speak to two experts to find out how clock changes affect our sleep and how you can prepare to make the transition as seamless as possible. Plus, we’ll also cover some tips on how to get good sleep in general. 

That begins with your bed, so check out our guide to the best mattress if you need an upgrade, or our best mattress toppers guide for giving older beds a comfort boost.

How does the clock change affect sleep?

For some people, the clock change will be no bother at all. But, for others, the switch will bring on a feeling similar to jetlag, which can lead to moodiness and appetite changes, among other things. 

April Mayer, a sleep expert at Amerisleep, explains it like this: “As our bodies are used to a certain rhythm, if you don't take steps to minimize the effect of a time change, it can take a few days or even around a week to get your sleep schedule back on track,” says Mayer.

Woman asleep with sleep mask on

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“Our circadian rhythm (or 'body clock') – which governs many of our bodily functions, from hunger cues to knowing when we need to sleep – relies on consistent patterns of sunlight and darkness to operate.

“It produces melatonin to make us feel sleepy at night, and responds to light during the day to signal us to stay awake. The clock change can interfere with these patterns. However, knowing this means you can take steps to smooth the transition and avoid any negative effects.”

How to prep your sleep for the clocks going back

If you are usually affected by the changing of the clocks, then the good news is that there are some simple things you can do before the time change. 

Mayer suggests: “The night before the clock change, try to eat a light, protein-filled dinner to promote sleepiness. We also recommend shutting off screens about two hours before bedtime, unwinding with a warm bath or shower, doing some light stretches, and reading a good book or doing some light activity. 

“It's also important to get at least seven hours of sleep each night to keep you from feeling tired when the switch occurs.”

Middle aged man asleep in bed

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In order to make the transition easier, you can also follow these simple steps, starting this evening:

  • The Thursday before the clocks go back – eat, sleep and exercise 30 minutes earlier than usual.
  • The Friday before the clocks go back – eat, sleep and exercise 25 minutes earlier than usual.
  • The Saturday before the clocks go back – eat, sleep and exercise 20 minutes earlier than usual.
  • The Sunday when the clocks go back – eat, sleep and exercise according to the new time.

When the clocks go back, maintaining good sleep hygiene will help make the leap easier. Read on for some essential information about sleep hygiene and how practicing it will help you sleep better night after night.

What is sleep hygiene and how can it help you?

‘Sleep hygiene’ is a term you might have heard in discussions about healthy sleep and general wellbeing, but what does it actually mean, and how can it help you sleep better before and after the clocks go back? We recently spoke to Dr Katherine Green, medical director of the UC Health Sleep Medicine Clinic in Colorado, to find out... 

“Sleep hygiene is the general term used for the habits and behaviors around our sleep routine,” she says. “It encompasses everything from the sleep environment (where the bedroom is, how much noise is around, how much light is there, etc), to the schedule that you typically sleep (bedtime and wake time).

“It also includes the things that you do before bed (using electronics before bed, eating or drinking schedules around bedtime, and so on). These things give the brain clues that help regulate the body’s sleep system.”

Signs that you have poor sleep hygiene

It’s easy to get into bad habits when it comes to our bedtime routines, but how do you know which habits are seriously affecting your sleep? According to  Dr Green, there are two big signs of poor sleep hygiene.

The first sleep hygiene no-no is using electronics within around an hour of bedtime. “Light from electronics (blue light) inhibits your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep,” explains Dr Green. 

“Using electronics (TV, phone, tablet etc) within 30-60 minutes of bedtime can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.”

A woman uses her phone in bed at night

(Image credit: Getty)

The second biggest sign? Not keeping your sleep and wake schedule regular. “Having an erratic sleep schedule (going to bed early some nights, late others, waking up early some days and sleeping in until very late on other days)," says Dr Green. 

"This makes it difficult for the brain’s hormones to regulate sleep, making it hard to fall asleep at night when you want to.”

Expert tips for better sleep hygiene

Regardless of the clocks going back, it’s always wise to practice good sleep hygiene daily so that you can get the rest you need without issue.

Dr Green recommends the following good sleep hygiene tips: 

1. “Avoid electronics within 60 minutes of bedtime.”

2. “Make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. It should be cool, dark, and quiet.”

3. “Avoid caffeine or stimulants after about 1pm, as this will affect your ability to fall asleep later that evening.”

4. “Exercising during the day can help reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality, and getting morning sunlight exposure helps to regulate your circadian rhythm as well. However, try to avoid any strenuous exercise too close to bedtime.”

5. “Keep to the same sleep schedule as much as you can, trying to avoid your bedtime and wake-time varying by more than an hour each day.”

6. “If you do wake in the night, avoid electronics or eating. Instead get out of bed and do a quiet activity like reading until you feel tired, then get back into bed and try to fall asleep.”

Davina Franks

Davina is an experienced sleep and mattress writer who has previously contributed to our sister site Top Ten Reviews, among other Future plc brands. Davina's a big fan of organic sleep products and has recently invested in a wool mattress topper that she quite happily describes as "life-changing." (Hey, we're serious about our sleep products). When she isn't snoozing or writing about sleep, Davina enjoys reading and creative writing, and incorporates meditation and yoga into her wellness routine.