alarm clock with waking woman in background

As fall progresses, the sunlight fades and we experience increasingly darker days. When the time changes this autumn, we'll gain an extra hour of morning rays but lose an hour of early evening sun. This shift may leave you feeling tired, or you may have trouble adjusting to the difference in light.

While it's considered easier to adjust to the "fall back" time change than its "spring forward" equivalent, there are still some challenges to consider. Sleep experts warn that although we'll gain an extra hour of sleep on the day that the time changes, the time shift can throw off predictable sleeping patterns and make you feel disoriented. Fortunately, by following a few simple tips, you can learn how to cope better with the changes autumn brings.

Practice Good Sleep Habits
Northwestern Memorial Hospital recommends that people use the time change as an opportunity to examine their sleep habits. There are numerous health consequences from sleep-related problems, including the possibility of weight gain or obesity, increased incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes, and memory and learning difficulties.

Good sleep habits include:

  • Keeping your bedroom only for sleeping--not for working, watching TV, or using the computer.
  • Allowing enough time to wind down after activities by avoiding vigorous exercise within three hours of bedtime.
  • Taking a hot shower before bed--the temperature drop when you enter cool sheets can help you sleep.
  • Having a comfortable bed with quiet sleeping surroundings--you can use white noise to drown out sounds if needed.

Stay Consistent
To avoid trouble following the time change, plan to hit the sack at the same time you usually do even though you're gaining an hour. Keeping this consistency will ensure that you don't start your Monday in a sleep-deprived state.

It also helps to stick to a regular rising time. If you go to bed later than usual, don't compensate for it by sleeping in. Getting up on a set schedule can help you stay consistent with nighttime sleep.

Use the Morning Light
Take advantage of morning sunlight to adjust your body's natural rhythm, also called your circadian rhythm. Soon after waking, open your blinds to expose yourself to daylight rather than getting ready behind closed curtains.

Wind Down
Just as morning light can help us get going when we should, artificial lights can keep us alert when we ought to be winding down. Try to avoid bright light at night, which can throw off your circadian rhythm. Even a laptop computer screen can mimic sunlight, keeping you from growing sleepy and throwing off your schedule.

Drive with Care
When the time change first takes effect, you may be more tired and less alert than you realize. Take extra precautions when driving or performing other activities that require your full attention.

HealthAhead Hint: Plan Ahead
Autumn brings many changes, but they needn't cause stress or anxiety. Ease into fall by paying attention to your health and wellbeing. Fading sunlight and the fall time change can both have an effect on your body. By knowing what challenges you may face after the time change, and practicing good sleep habits, you can ensure that you're not thrown off your schedule.