Get Some Sleep: Fall back tips
November 1st, 2011
12:53 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Fall back tips

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

The autumn equinox has come and gone, but many of us here in the Midwest have continued to fool ourselves that it is really just late summer.

But the game is over once we turn the clocks back and we start driving home from work in the dark. The clock change that is mandated by the end of daylight saving time is really the marker for many people that a change in seasons has happened.

For people who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the change in autumn means more hours of darkness and colder weather, which keeps many people indoors. As a result, many feel more depressed and have more sleep disturbance as well as daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

The actual change in the clock, which will occur at 2 a.m. Sunday, is a circadian shift - in the body's natural 24-hour rhythm - that is better tolerated than the clock change in the spring, especially if you follow a few simple recommendations.

The change in the fall is easier to deal with than the one in the spring because, in the fall, on the Sunday night after the clock change, your body feels that it is one hour later than what the clock reads. So if you normally feel sleepy at 11 p.m., you will feel sleepy at 10 p.m.

What to do? You can go ahead and go to bed. Let’s face it, most of us are sleep-deprived anyway because of scheduling too little time to sleep, so get that extra hour of sleep. Or you can force yourself to stay up until your usual bedtime.

For most of us, it is relatively easy to stay up a bit later than we are used to, while it is almost impossible for most people to lie down and go to sleep if they are not sleepy. That is why the spring clock change is a bigger disruption to many people’s sleep rhythm.

I actually recommend that you go to bed when you feel sleepy. It is wisdom gained from seeing thousands of patients with sleep troubles (although my grandmother would have told you the same thing). For many people, if they push themselves to stay up, they then get the proverbial second wind and end up awake for hours.

Unfortunately, the alarm clock rings at the usual time, and off we are again, starting yet another week of work sleep-deprived.

Of course, one reason people get a second wind is the things they do in order to stimulate themselves. For example, they work on the computer or watch TV. The light emitted from these screens signals the brain that it is time to get up and plow the field.

How sleepy you feel on that Sunday night after the change depends on whether you turned your clock back before you went to bed or waited until morning. Changing the clock should be based on people’s normal sleep schedules and on whether they have sleep problems. If you feel that basically your sleep is normal, but you know that often you are not allowing yourself that good eight hours of sleep that most of us need, then set your clock back the night before and get up at your usual time. That way, you have gained an hour of sleep.

If, on the other hand, you regularly get your eight hours of sleep and might not want an extra hour, don’t set the clock back the night before. If you get up at the same time you usually do, then you will have your normal amount of sleep and feel that you have gained an hour on Sunday morning when you turn the clock back.

The same advice holds true if you have sleep disorders such as insomnia or delayed sleep phase syndrome. These disorders make your sleep/wake schedule rather fragile such that an extra hour might not be a good thing; rather, it could throw your schedule way out of whack.

For most people, it is not the acute shift in the clock that is the problem in the fall. It is all the short, gray days ahead and the long periods of darkness. Winter conditions in the Northern Hemisphere can lead to sleep disturbance, daytime sleepiness, fatigue and depression.

So as we shift into the cold, dark season, try to get as much light in the morning and throughout the day as possible, even using a light box if necessary. Also, try to keep to a regular daily exercise routine.

These basic health habits can help ward off the winter blues and help you get regular sleep.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

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soundoff (300 Responses)

    Put it on daylight savings time and leave it.
    I would rather have time in the afternoon.
    I have things to do when I get off work. Getting dark at 5:30pm sux.

    November 6, 2011 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Schmedley

      Totally agree with that. I think the Russians are on permanent Daylight Savings time...

      November 6, 2011 at 23:19 | Report abuse |
    • SeanNJ

      It wouldn't be that much lighter for that much longer. People overestimate the effect DST actually has.

      November 7, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse |
    • r schier

      Put it on standard time and leave it. We don't need light until 9PM in the summer...we need more light in the mornings year-round....

      November 7, 2011 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Exactly. More sunlight in the PM is sooo much more useful then having more time in the AM when I am still sleeping. This morning it was soooo bright when I got up for work and its going to be dark when I get off of work at 5:00.

      Keep Daylight Savings Time. Spring foward and keep it that way.

      November 7, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse |
    • Chart2004

      Daylight Savings Time is HELL! I have 3 sleep disorders, and never adjust. I feel like crap 6 months out of the year. I would elect any illiterate crackhead if he could get rid of DST!

      November 7, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      You obviously don't remember when this was tried back in the 1970s. Everyone hated it.
      Personally, I like daylight savings time, but the idiots who extended it until early November should be taken out and shot (figuratively speaking, of course). DST should not begin before March 1 and should end in early Octoiber.

      November 7, 2011 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
    • Ono.E

      First, I would support permanent DST.

      But my main contention to address efficiency on many levels would be to concatenate the four continental time zones into two time zones. This would provide a significant increase in the overlapping work hours between government offices, businesses, ease jet lag, and be beneficial to viewers of live sporting events.

      November 7, 2011 at 17:49 | Report abuse |
    • Schmedley

      I think the real debate is whether to leave it on standard or daylight time. The amount of extra daylight in the winter is irrelevant, it is the time change that is the problem.

      Personally, I like having it stay light until 9pm in the summer because I can get home from work and still have time to take the kids out to play or get in some time at the driving range or something like that. It is less useful (at least for me) to have the extra daylight early in the morning when we're just hustling around getting the kids ready for school or summer camp.

      November 7, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  2. popeye1128

    Set it to DST and leave it is my vote.

    November 6, 2011 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. popeye1128

    Dark at 4:30-5:00PM during the winter sucks in my opinion. No wonder people get grouchy.

    November 6, 2011 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • moe smith

      first, anyone and more to the point, EVERYONE is grouchy at 430-5am. Second, there is no sun at 430-5am.

      November 7, 2011 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • B=Dog

      Good reading comprehension there....

      November 7, 2011 at 18:39 | Report abuse |
    • SadToSay

      I guess I don't need to wonder about those poll results anymore. So many people don't realize that we just moved back to normal time.

      November 7, 2011 at 18:53 | Report abuse |
  4. popeye1128

    Poorly worded question on Quick Vote. Should ask if we need to leave DST all year long.

    November 6, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • aochs615

      Agreed most people do not realize when you fall back in the fall, we are actually setting are clocks back to normal time and then time that it is all year round in some states like Arizona, and what it was like before daylight savings time was invented. I agree Im not sick of daylight savings I think we should keep daylight savings all year round.

      November 7, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse |
  5. Rob

    One of the few things that Arizona gets right......by doing away with such an archaic ritual.

    November 6, 2011 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ruel

      Yeah, I typically run eary AM or right after work (5pm-ish), so both those times are now trppead in darkness I do have an awesome treadmill and will begin using it again (or running in the dark) Its just this period of adjustment that sucks. Bye bye summer I think ice cream counter acts the being healthy!!

      May 24, 2012 at 18:31 | Report abuse |
  6. DP44022

    I lived in Az for 24 years and when I moved to Ohio I didn't like the whole clock thing. As many others have said, it sucks that it gets dark at 5pm, I'd rather have more sunlight later in the day.

    November 6, 2011 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mm

    Why don't we just set the clock back 30mins? No more adjusting twice every year......

    November 6, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dumb

      dumbest thing I have ever read

      November 6, 2011 at 22:03 | Report abuse |
  8. Rd

    Indiana had it right but messed it up because they decided we should be on Chicago. I hates dst!

    November 6, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Rd

    My mistake – they decided we should be on NY time. And again I say, I hate daylight savings time.

    November 6, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. XFitPete

    Nothing like going into work when the sun is coming up and getting out when its setting. I don't have windows at work and it makes for a very long winter when you don't really see the sun during the week. Lets leave it on DST and not switch back. Who cares if its dark out when you leave for work? At least I could accomplish something outside at home if they left DST active.

    November 6, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Zepol

    get rid of DST! I care if it's dark when I leave for work. It is horrendous, especially here in the south where the sun shines way into the evening in the summer. It is much healthier and easier on the body when we rise with daylight. If you have electricity you don't need the sun to be shining at 9 pm.

    November 7, 2011 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • r schier

      Totally agree....we need the light in the morning....no need to stay light until 9PM+, when you're trying to wind down.....

      November 7, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • JustBe

      Geez... eveyone is so greedy... ME ME ME... I WANT, I WANT, I WANT.... WHO CARES WHAT YOU ALL WANT! This whole time change is STUPID to begin with! This is the correct time that we should all be with! Now STFU and get your @sses back to work!

      November 7, 2011 at 16:24 | Report abuse |
    • XFitPete

      @Zwpol "It is much healthier and easier on the body when we rise with daylight. If you have electricity you don't need the sun to be shining at 9 pm."
      So, you want to get up with the sun at 4:30 AM instead? I love 9-10 PM sunsets, you can do pretty much anything in the evenings with work interfering. Or, are you a gramps and go to bed at 8 PM? Either way, unless you live in the deep south you only get ~9 of darkness in the summer. Take your pick, but I'd rather use daylight hours when Im awake to accomplish something.

      November 7, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse |
  12. LindaY

    I agree with Zepol. I am driving at 6:20 a.m. and during DST it is pitch dark except for two or three weeks around June 21. I couldn't believe how much better the traffic was this morning than it was last week–didn't see as many accidents as I did in the dark. Anything I need to do after work can be done whether it's light or dark, and it's so much easier to start work when it's light outside, not dark.

    November 7, 2011 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. bubba

    Please make it daylight saving time year-round. It is so much better! Long dark evenings are so useless!

    November 7, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Aaron

    I like it the way it is... Keep it light as late as possible at night - As long as it is light when I have to get up in the morning...

    November 7, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. stan

    I say just do away with the "fall back" time change. I go to work in the dark everyday regardless, I leave at 4:40am to be at work by 5:30am. I work till 4pm so by the time I get home its just about dark. I would rather more light in the evening than in the morning. It gets to depressing during work days seeing no light all week for the winter months.

    November 7, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. rob

    Wh the HELL did George Bush change daylight savings time during his administration anyway Another STUPID thing we can credit him for!

    November 7, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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      September 12, 2012 at 02:17 | Report abuse |
  17. Luke

    Who needs an extra hour of darkness besides Vampires and Criminals?
    It is depressing when the sun goes down at 5:00 in the afternoon –
    Keep it Daylight Saving Time all year round.

    November 7, 2011 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Peter

    Should stay on Daylight Savings Time year-round. I like actually seeing the sun in the Winter after I get off work. WIth Standard time I end up not seeing the sun on the way to or from work. It sucks.

    November 7, 2011 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Steve S

    I believe that DST should be the other way around. I don't need sunset at 9:00PM in the summer. Make it standard time then. Sunset an hour later in the winter would be better,too. "Spring back. Fall ahead." When DST was reinstated back in the 70's I could not understand the logic of how it was going to help save energy. Still don't get it. Why create more waking hours in the heat of the summer when AC usage is at its highest. Then there's the logic of "Winter's coming! Let's take away that extra afternoon hour of light." Why? So that people will have to stay inside longer requiring more indoor heating???

    November 7, 2011 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Delta

    I don't care which way it goes – pick one and end the time changes. It takes the average human body a full two weeks to get used to any time change. That's a month of less-than-productive time every year. Ridiculous. I take a supplement my doc recommended, 5-HTP and it helps immensely, but not everyone has access to it. I'd be happy if I didn't need to take it at all.

    Please stop the time changes.

    November 7, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Orchard

    I'm a farmer and I DESPISE Daylight Savings. The livestock hate it and as a result I ignore it. There is nothing wrong with normal time.

    November 7, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Johnny

    Thought this article was going to be about why we don't need the shift but instead it was about sleep...hohum

    November 7, 2011 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. popeye1128

    It sure gets dark early now. Can't wait for the new wave of stories about depression.

    November 7, 2011 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. khawk

    I only like DST b/c my children don't have to stand in the dark to catch the morning school bus.

    November 7, 2011 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Orchard

      Really? During DST it is completely pitch black in the morning where I live. Hence, why I ignore it and follow normal time.

      November 8, 2011 at 07:22 | Report abuse |
  25. JM

    Could really care less...I don't have issues adjusting to either...I like it light late during the summer, like it light in the morning in winter to help me get up. BUT, if they decided to leave it one way or the other, that would be ok too. I'm normally very opinionated but this one....doesn't matter to me. It's original intent was to save energy during WWI. I don't think the intent of it back then is what it actually does today!

    November 7, 2011 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JohnnyE

    How few people remember that we tried year-round daylight saving time during an earlier energy crisis. That plan was dropped because childern were heading off to school in the morning darkness and there was an increase in children being struck by cars. We went back to DST only for the summer months, which I think makes sense. Few people benefit by a 5am sunrise...put that extra daylight in the evening when you can make use of it.

    November 8, 2011 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. ibivi

    If you live in a northern climate the extra daylight with DST would help with SAD. I start getting symptoms as soon as the days lose light which is before standard time starts again since the move to November. It makes evenings too long and I sleep too much. I am less active. I have poor night vision so I don't go out as much. We have more overcast days than sunny which depresses my mood. I'd rather live in the south. I would feel better overall.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Abishek

      DrChoopy on November 7, 2011 Daylight saving time shluod be about getting more sunlight during winter! Light is essential in regulating the circadian rhythm, it has been observed in the northern countries that the lack of light in winter makes people more depressed

      September 11, 2012 at 04:02 | Report abuse |
  28. Lenora Good

    I don't care which they use, pick one, and stick to it. If necessary, start school an hour later in the morning so the little ones aren't out in the dark waiting for their buses. Then have it go an hour later in the day.those who live in the South probably barely notice, but those of us in the Northern climes, we notice. I'd prefer Standard Time year round, but don't really care. Just, please, pick one.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Skylar

    I like daylight savings because before fall back, I wake up to walk to school and it is pitch black and much colder then after the sun comes up (northern Utah) When fall back comes around, I get more sleep for a few days(!) and it is much lighter and warmer in the mornings.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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