Making Use of That Extra Hour When “Falling Back”

Hot cup of coffee near a bed

Here in the United States, Daylight Saving Time ends on November 1, so all clocks will be adjusted backward by one hour.

It always takes some adjustment to get used to the new schedule. We all love to “fall back” and to get that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, but this change also corresponds with fewer hours of daylight, and that’s tough on people.

This year is not a typical year—to say the least—and it’s worth thinking about how this change might hit you, given your current situation. Consider 1) how you might use this morning hour, and 2) how you might ensure yourself sufficient sunlight.

Use that hour in a new way

While you may love that extra hour of sleep, consider not sleeping in, but instead get up after your customary amount of sleep. Your body is getting up as usual, but the clock will say that you’re up an hour early.  And there’s a lot you can do with that hour–especially if the people around you are still sound asleep.

Remember, when it comes to habits, it’s easier to change your surroundings than to change yourself or other people. It’s easier to get in the habit of waking up earlier by getting up at the same time, when the clock changes, than to train yourself to get up earlier.

A reader commented: “A couple years ago I decided not to reset my clock at the end of daylight savings. I suddenly had writing/exercise time.”

You could use that time to do something like exercise or work on a project—or maybe you want to use it for pure pleasure. I have a friend who wakes up early to read for fun.

The morning is a great time to form a regular habit, because self- control is high, there are fewer distractions, and it’s highly predictable.

Don’t forget, however, that it’s so, so, so important to get enough sleep, and if you lose an hour in the morning, you need to gain that time in sleep. (Here are some tips for getting yourself to go to bed on time.)

The question is: where would you rather have the hour? At the end of the day, or at the start of the day?

Most people would use those slots in very different ways.  The hour of 7:00-8:00 am looks very different from the hour of 11:00-midnight. Which hour would contribute the most to your happiness?

Think about sunlight

Sufficient exposure to sunlight  is very important for our mood, energy, immune function, focus, and the general running of our bodies.

Like the railways that needed Greenwich Mean Time to synchronize their schedules, our bodies use sunlight to maintain our circadian rhythms.

When to wake up or feel sleepy, when to get hungry, when to do repair work throughout the body—all these are set by the circadian rhythms that operate on cycle of about twenty-four hours.

Regular daylight boosts our alertness, mood, and activity, and can help lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Many health issues, such as insomnia, obesity, and depression, have been linked to a disrupted body clock.

Many people, such as my daughter Eliza, are really hit hard by the shorter days and the diminished light of the autumn and winter.

Some researchers suggest that because the pandemic has disrupted our usual patterns, this time change may hit some people especially hard this year—because they’ll be without the stimulation of the commute, the conversations with with colleagues, and the time spent outside moving from home to work and back.

Whatever your routine these days, it’s important to get exposed to sunlight, and the earlier, the better. The more morning light we see, the better for our moods, and the more easily our bodies stay regulated.

So as you think about your schedule for this strange fall and winter, try to incorporate time outside in the daylight. A twenty-minute dawn walk with your dog, for instance, would boost your health and happiness in several different ways.

Have you thought about the time change might affect you?

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