Guidelines for Sleep Amid Daylight Savings and Circadian Rhythm Disruption

As the seasons change and daylight savings time (DST) comes into play, our internal sleep clocks may face a temporary disruption. While we eagerly welcome longer daylight hours in the evening, the shifting of our clocks can lead to sleep disturbances, making it difficult for many to adjust. This transition not only affects our sleep schedules but also highlights the profound connection between our environment, our circadian rhythms, and our sleep quality. Our circadian rhythms, often referred to as our body’s internal clock, control the timing of various physiological and behavioral processes. They influence our sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, and body temperature regulation.


The biannual ritual of changing the clocks for daylight savings can have a significant impact on our sleep. In the spring, when we set our clocks forward and “lose” an hour, it can feel like jet lag, making it difficult to fall asleep and wake up at the desired times. In the fall, when we set our clocks back and “gain” an hour, it may lead to waking up too early, feeling unrested, or having difficulty adjusting to the new schedule. Most people adjust to the new routine within a few days. However, if you find yourself continuing to struggle with sleep, it could be a sign of insomnia. Luckily, there exists an effective, evidence-based treatment called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-i) which has been shown to help many people regain control over their sleep patterns.


CBT-i can play a vital role in helping individuals adapt to these changes. By working on specific cognitive and behavioral strategies, CBT-i can teach people how to re-establish their sleep routines and adjust to the altered environment.  


There are three key components to CBT-i: sleep hygiene, stimulus control and sleep restriction.


Sleep Hygiene: The Impact of Environment on Sleep

Our sleep environment plays a crucial role in our sleep quality. Light, noise, and temperature can all affect our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. With the longer daylight hours during DST, our bedrooms may be filled with more natural light in the evening, potentially disrupting our internal clocks. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” involves adjusting your physical environment to make it more conducive to sleeping and resting during appropriate times. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” can involve reducing the use of electronics (which can emit blue light) in the hours leading up to bedtime, using blackout curtains to reduce the amount of light coming from lights outside (i.e., street lamps, neighbors’ windows). In the morning, you can make it a habit to open up your curtains or blinds to allow sunlight into the room. The presence of light initiates biological cues that help your brain and body awaken and become alert. 


Stimulus Control: The Impact of the Mind on Sleep

Have you ever spent the night tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep even though you feel “mentally” tired? In CBT-i, stimulus control involves behaviors that reduce the association with the bed and wakefulness. When we lay in bed without falling asleep, either deliberately (i..e, working on a laptop, watching TV, etc.) or not, we are actually creating associations in our mind between being awake and being in bed. Essentially, we are giving our brains mixed messages about what the bed is for, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep in bed when we want to. Stimulus control helps re-establish associations between the bed and sleepiness by. Stimulus control behaviors include:


  • Resisting the urge to use the bed for activities other than sleeping and sex. 
  • Avoid getting into bed when you are not sleepy. At first, this may mean getting into bed at a later time than what your desired bedtime is. That is okay – as you continue to follow CBT-i techniques and good sleep hygiene, you can shift your natural circadian rhythm to match your desired sleep schedule. 
  • If you are unable to fall asleep within the first 15-20 mins of getting into bed, get up and do a quiet activity such as reading, journaling, or light cleaning in another area of the house. You can even stay in the bedroom, but make sure to sit somewhere else (i.e., a chair, the floor, etc.) 
  • Avoid laying in bed and “forcing” yourself to sleep as this can increase anxiety, which further interferes with your ability to sleep.


Sleep Restriction: The Impact of Behavior on Sleep

In CBT-i, the idea of sleep restriction is to regulate your “sleep drive.” Like the hunger drive, your sleep drive increases and decreases at certain times of the day and is affected by your routine and behaviors. For example, many people experience an increase in their sleep drive in the early afternoon (around 2pm) and again in the evening. Certain behaviors such as napping during the day can also decrease your sleep drive at night. Sleep restriction behaviors involve:


  • Resisting the urge to nap during the day
  • Setting a consistent wake-up time. Try to keep this time even during the weekends and even if you feel you have not slept enough the night before. The idea here is that waking up in the morning even when you are still tired will increase your sleep drive for the following evening.


As days grow darker and shorter, disruptions to our circadian rhythms can significantly impact our sleep quality and overall well-being. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-i) is a well-researched intervention that addresses these challenges by targeting cognitive and behavioral aspects of sleep by emphasizing the importance of sleep environment, circadian rhythm alignment, and effective sleep hygiene. Of course, this is all easier said than done! If you are struggling with sleep issues, reach out to a medical professional to rule out any possible physical causes. If these problems persist, it may be time to speak with a mental health professional to address underlying behavioral and psychological issues that may be affecting your sleep. If you have been struggling with insomnia or with your mental health, reach out to Elements Psychological Services today to schedule an appointment.