Have you ever felt groggy and out of sorts after daylight savings time? You're definitely not alone! Adjusting to a new schedule after the “Spring forward” can be tough on our bodies.
I have a tip to help you recalibrate your body clock during this time of year or when you're traveling across time zones.
Here it is:
Get as much natural light as possible during the day and minimize exposure to bright, artificial light before bed.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Here's the thing – our bodies have evolved to feel sleepy after the sun goes down. It's only in modern times, with the advent of electricity and bright lights, that our sleep patterns have changed. This is especially noticeable if you live in an urban area and then travel to a more rural area – suddenly, the darkness seems so much darker and more conducive to sleep!
In a recent study, researchers looked at the sleep patterns of over 500 college students in Seattle throughout the year. They found that even though the students had to follow their school schedule during fall and winter, they tended to go to bed and wake up later. The study also looked at how light exposure affects sleep patterns. They found that getting more light during the day, especially in the morning, can help regulate our body clock and prevent us from sleeping too late. This is especially important for people who live in places with very long winters, where it's easy for our body clocks to get messed up.
Our bodies have an innate circadian clock that signals us when it's time to sleep at night. If we don't receive enough light during the day while the sun is up, our circadian clock may become "delayed," causing sleep onset to be pushed back later in the night.
Overall, the study shows that even though our social schedule influences our sleep patterns, we still need exposure to natural light to stay on track and ultimately feel more rested, energized, and "on point."
In addition, other studies have found a correlation between light exposure and weight, with those exposed to light later in the day more likely to weigh more due to how light exposure affects eating habits. So getting as much natural light as possible early in the day can also help you maintain a more healthy weight!
Here are more actionable tips:
- Get outside for at least 20-30 minutes each morning to soak up natural light. This can be as simple as taking a walk, having breakfast outside, or sitting by a sunny window.
- If you're working from home, set up your workspace near a window to maximize your exposure to natural light during the day.
- Avoid using bright screens (such as phones, computers, and TV) for at least an hour before bed. This can disrupt your body's natural production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
- Consider investing in blackout curtains or a sleep mask to create a dark sleeping environment. This can help your body produce more melatonin and improve the quality of your sleep. I use both!
- If you're traveling across time zones, try to adjust your sleep schedule gradually before your trip by going to bed and waking up earlier or later depending on the time difference.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and comfortable to promote better sleep.
- Pay attention to your eating habits and try to have your meals at consistent times each day. This can help regulate your body clock and promote better sleep.
- If you're having trouble falling asleep, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, gentle stretching, or foam rolling to help calm your mind and body.
Dunster GP, Hua I, Grahe A, Fleischer JG, Panda S, Wright KP Jr, et al. Daytime light exposure is a strong predictor of seasonal variation in sleep and circadian timing of university students. J Pineal Res. 2022 Nov 20;e12843.
News release. Trouble falling asleep at night? Chase that daytime light, study shows. EurekAlert! News release.
Reid KJ, Santostasi G, Baron KG, Wilson J, Kang J, Zee PC. Timing and intensity of light correlate with body weight in adults. PLoS One. 2014 Apr 2;9(4):e92251.