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Not ready to ‘spring forward’? This sleep doctor says there’s still time to prepare

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I know I’m supposed to gradually go to bed and get up earlier over the course of a week or two before Daylight Saving Time hits. (I’m the one who assigns those kinds of stories strongly suggesting you do it.)

Did I do it? No, I did not. Here I am, not the least bit excited to set my alarm to spring forward starting on Sunday.

I turned to Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist at Huntington Heath, who did not laugh at me when I asked what I should do at this late date. Here’s what he advised.

This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: Daylight Saving Time starts Sunday at 2 a.m. I haven’t prepared at all. Is there anything I can still do to make my family’s transition easier?

Dr. Raj Dasgupta: No worries, you are definitely not alone. Twice a year people across the world whisper this question to themselves, “Spring forward or fall back” like a secret chant to help them recall which direction to set their microwave clock while desperately searching for the manual.

Yes, the optimal solution is advanced preparation, to minimize the effects of the change to daylight saving time by going to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier each night for up to four nights before the time change.

Have no fear, another option to lessen the impact of this change on your body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock controlling our sleep and wake cycles) is to simply set your clocks ahead one hour on Saturday, and go to sleep at your normal bedtime. On Saturday, you can start to adjust the timing of your daily routines that are time cues for your body, such as meals, exercise and medications. These under-the-wire tips can help with the transition into Daylight Saving Time.

CNN: I’m glad the time change is Sunday, but what should we do on Monday when we go back to work and school?

Dasgupta: Let’s focus on Sunday first. After the time change, when your alarm wakes you up, I want you to head outdoors to wake yourself up with some early morning sunlight (which also helps you fall asleep easier). Then try not to overload your schedule on the Sunday or Monday after the time shift in case you’re experiencing daytime sleepiness. If possible, schedule important meetings or events for later in the week when you’ve had more time to adjust. It’s also best to avoid long drives right after the time change because of the potential dangers of drowsy driving.

CNN: What if I have an attack of sleepiness or fatigue, especially in the first few days after we spring forward? What should I do?

Dasgupta: If you find yourself grappling with significant daytime sleepiness in the days after switching to daylight saving time, a short nap before 2 p.m. may be beneficial. Keeping a nap around 15 to 20 minutes can boost your alertness while reducing grogginess after waking up. Avoid naps that are too late in the afternoon or evening because they can make it harder to fall asleep at night, worsening the misalignment of your sleep schedule.

CNN: Your plan sounds great, but I know read somewhere that I should step up my “sleep hygiene” to help during the transition. What are some simple things I can do?

Dasgupta: Great question— are you sure you are not one of my medical students? Although there are many components of healthy sleep hygiene, some of my favorite tips following the transition to Daylight Saving Time are:

1. Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol, especially in the afternoon and evening.

2. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet, avoiding heavy meals and getting exercise, especially if you can do it outside under the morning sun.

3. Maintaining your new sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends.

4. Continuing your sleep routine for you and the family as you transition to bed each night.

5. Putting that smart phone away and go “technology free” at least one hour before bedtime.

CNN: Do you have kids? How can you help them adjust to the time change?

Dasgupta: Yes, I have three young kids —Aiden, Mina and Sadie. As a parent I try to be sympathetic when it comes to being sleep deprived. In the days following the time change, I try to be more forgiving if my child is having an extra temper tantrum. Moving the clock forward can cause changes in your child’s mood. By being understanding, this will help them adjust a little easier.

Remember, with all the focus on your kid’s sleep, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Make sure you’re getting the rest you need as well, so you’re not overly irritable with your child.

One last minute trick that works for me is to wear them out on Monday after the time change. I have three kids and I’m pretty sure on they will be struggling to wake up for school the morning after the time change. However, my wife and I keep them busy throughout the day, especially encouraging them to play outside in order to help them feel tired enough for an earlier bedtime to help reset that circadian rhythm. I also keep our home and particularly their bedroom a bit darker 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.

CNN: So I can do better before we “fall back” in November, please remind me: How important is sleep?

Dasgupta: This is my favorite question.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. The way you feel while you are awake depends in part on what happens while you are sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.

Sleep is important for maintaining optimal health and well-being. Like exercise and a balanced diet, getting enough sleep may help prevent a range of health issues, including heart disease and depression.

Now don’t stress out about not getting ready to “spring forward.” Stress can keep you from sleeping. Just start getting better sleep tonight, or even tomorrow.

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