Fight the Daylight Saving Slump With Time Outside

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Want to help your body switch faster? Make plans to head outside!

It’s that time of year again: daylight saving time ends on November 3, 2019, at which point communities in most states fall back an hour and things get a whole lot darker earlier in the afternoons and evenings. This can seem like a nice change in some ways—after all, we get an extra hour of sleep that first morning, and early-risers will see more morning sunlight, too! But the one-hour transition also comes with heightened rates of seasonal depression, an increase in automobile accidents (perhaps because of that altered sleep schedule) and an increased likelihood of experiencing episodes of physical distress (like a heart attack or stroke).

“The body likes predictable daily rhythms that are synced up with the sun and the moon,” says Ellen Vora, MD, a holistic psychologist and sleep expert. “There is no evolutionary precedent for everyone suddenly shifting their circadian rhythm by one hour—it's like a mini form of jet lag, and it takes a minute for our circadian rhythm to catch up.”

There is good news, though: Mother Nature can help you deal with the not-so-ideal effects of daylight saving time. Here’s how:

1. Use movement to help your body adjust to the new time 

Research shows that exercise can help you deal with disrupted sleep, so you might consider trying to spend some time on the trails or at the gym on the day before the switch, as well as the day after. Schedule a hike, bike ride or climb with your buddies on Sunday and take advantage of the benefits of movement for regulating your body’s natural clock.

When’s the best time to exercise? According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s best to squeeze that workout in during the early morning or afternoon, as exercising raises your body temperature slightly. When your body temp drops a few hours later, it triggers drowsiness, which can help you fall asleep faster!

2. Eat seasonal foods 

The time switch and resulting sleep adjustments could make you crave sweets more than normal, according to research. Plus, studies say that disrupted sleep can lead you to eat more than you really need. To combat this effect, try to seek out local, fresh foods from a local farmers market, which will leave you full of protein and balanced nutrients. Don’t have a farmers market nearby? Consider biking or walking to the store to stock up on healthy groceries. Spending time in the daylight outdoors also has positive effects for helping to reregulate your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, so you’ll recover from the switch faster.

3. Keep drinking water

Take a page out of the National Sleep Foundation’s book and aim to avoid dehydration, which can disrupt your sleep beyond just the one-hour shift. When you get dehydrated, your mouth gets dry, which sets you up for snoring or waking in search of water. Aim for 125 ounces of water per day (about 16 eight-ounce glasses), spread throughout the day, to prepare for a good night of sleep ahead.

If you’re upping your exercise levels per the above recommendation, it’s smart to drink more water than you usually would, especially if you don’t usually exercise. University of Michigan guidelines suggest drinking 17–20 ounces of water two hours before you exercise, 7–10 ounces for every 20 minutes of activity you’re doing, and at least 16–24 ounces of water after the workout to prevent dehydration.

4. Chase vitamin D 

Your body’s clock syncs by using melatonin, a hormone that helps you regulate sleeping and waking times. Typically, melatonin increases when it gets dark out, and decreases when it gets light out—but the daylight saving time switch can throw that routine into disarray. Your best case scenario is to chase the light when you want to be awake, and to make your space dark when it’s time to go to sleep. This tells your body to release more or less melatonin rates, depending on the amount of light you’re exposed to.

Vora says the best way to regulate your circadian rhythms is to spend plenty of time outside in natural light during the day, and to expose yourself to the moon and darkness at night. “These were the original cues for our circadian rhythm, and they're still more effective than any amount of synthetic melatonin or indoor lights for conducting our body's symphony of internal rhythms,” she says.

For kids especially, Vora recommends getting outside right away. “Be sure to get bright outdoor light exposure first thing in the morning for the whole family,” she says. “This will help everyone get on the new circadian rhythm.”

If you’re at work, you can get some extra rays by sitting closer to the window or opening the blinds—or by taking a walk at a local park or in your neighborhood during a work break. If you don’t have easy access to outdoor light, you might consider buying a sun lamp for light therapy, which you can use throughout the winter months to help combat seasonal depression, although Vora suggest keeping kids away from artificial light after the sun sets, to prep them for bedtime.

5. Give yourself something to look forward to

One of the hardest parts of daylight saving time can be the schedule change, which throws routines into disarray. This time can also feel like the first foray into winter and a drastic decrease in the amount of sunlight we’re exposed to. 

To combat these feelings, challenge yourself to plan an outdoor adventure with friends, to help you appreciate the changing seasons and get some fresh air. Accomplishing something new with people you love is known to increase well-being, so consider planning an adventure that’s a little bit challenging, just for the joy of it!

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