Dr. Jennifer Bahr, ND

There are two times a year that I know my schedule will be packed – when we change to daylight savings, and again when we change back. The time change can be hard on just about anyone, but it is especially challenging for my patients because they have mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This is related to many factors, from the disruption in sleep to the change in light and how that impacts our circadian rhythm. Fortunately, there are strategies that you can utilize to help minimize the impact of the time change on your energy and moods. Here are the top 5 to help with the spring forward.

1. Save Your Sleep

The shift to daylight savings gives us more light but it also disrupts our sleep. You have been used to waking with sun already up, and suddenly it is pitch black outside when your alarm goes off. You are used to winding down for the evening when the sun is setting and having several hours before you need to go to bed. But now if you take the same time to wind down you are getting to bed an hour or more later than a few weeks ago, making that darkness in the morning even harder to deal with. So how do we deal with this when we “lost” an hour of sleep a few weeks ago and our bodies haven’t quite caught up? There are two strategies. The first is to ensure you maintain your regular schedule, even on weekends. Don’t sleep in just because you don’t have to go to work. This perpetuates the cycle and will end up taking you longer to adjust in the long run. If you are susceptible to bipolar disorder this is exceptionally important during this time as the increase in light and decrease in sleep might make you at risk for a manic or hypomanic episode. If you are maintaining your routine exactly as you had prior to the time change and still can’t sleep, melatonin may be helpful as a short-term aid. Melatonin is the “sleepy hormone” produced by your body in response to darkness. Taking a small amount one hour prior to your regular bedtime can help to induce sleep. Your body should adjust to the change in light, so this supplementation should only be needed short term.

2. Eat well

We always strive to eat well in order to provide our body with the nutrients and building blocks it needs to thrive. The challenge is that when we feel tired because of the changes in our patterns, we tend to gravitate toward unhealthy, sugary foods. These foods give us a big burst of energy short term, but then lead to an inevitable “sugar crash.” This starts a vicious cycle of eating nutrient poor high-calorie food to boost our energy, leaving us feeling “wired and tired” without the nutrients needed to restore optimal functioning. Focusing on regularly timed meals (meaning you eat them about the same time every day) that have good sources of protein and fats as well as plenty of leafy green veggies will help to avoid the need for sugary foods and maintain good energy throughout the day.

3. Avoid caffeine

Or at least avoid it after noon. Caffeine can deplete your adrenals by forcing them to make too much adrenaline in response to the caffeine. This can lead to the same sort of vicious cycle with sugar where you have a “wired and tired” feeling where you are antsy and can’t focus but feel exhausted at the same time, making you want to go for an afternoon cup of coffee. In addition to this, it can disrupt your sleep, further adding to the cycle of disrupted sleep, poor food choices, and more caffeine to compensate.

4. Exercise

Exercise is a fantastic way to help regulate your mood, improve sleep, and ensure you get outside and enjoy nature. In my practice, I have found that morning exercise is the most effective for doing all of these things. Not only is it easier to stick to for most people, it also helps to provide a great setting for the rest of your day. It improves focus and energy, decreases anxiety and depression, combats stress, and helps set the stage for a health-focused day. Exercising outdoors is best as it improves focus and gives you exposure to the sun, a vital regulator of your circadian rhythm. Exercising in the morning reduces the exposure to car exhaust from the morning commute and doesn’t interfere with sleep like evening exercise can.

5. Relax

Don’t forget to relax at night! Just because the sun is up later doesn’t mean we don’t need time to wind down at night like we did in the winter. Getting ourselves into a go-go-go pace in the spring and summer can disrupt sleep and have as much of an impact on our adrenal function as caffeine and sugar. Make time every evening for a quiet, relaxing activity such as reading, gentle walking, meditation, etc. Relaxation that includes a screen isn’t advised because the lights on the screen play tricks on your eye and have a negative impact on your melatonin production. Backlit screens (like your tablet, smart phone, computer, and TV) should be turned off at least one hour before your intended bedtime.

If you are still struggling with the time change, try these tips out and see if you don’t feel better. If you have already made it through this go round, try them out next year.

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