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Coping With Time Change When You’re In Recovery

For people in the US, daylight saving time begins on March 10. That means we set our clocks forward and lose an hour of the day. For most people, the beginning of daylight saving is harder than the end. Most people’s circadian rhythms are slightly longer than 24 hours, so losing an hour feels like a bigger adjustment than gaining an hour. Losing an hour also means losing an hour of sleep.

For most people, that just means we go around for a couple of weeks, feeling tired, making more mistakes, and contributing to a widespread drop in productivity. However, for some people, the consequences of that sleep disruption can be more serious. People with bipolar disorder, for example, are very sensitive to these kinds of disruptions and losing that hour of sleep may trigger a manic episode. People with depression or anxiety disorders may experience a significant increase in their levels of anxiety when they miss sleep. For people recovering from addiction, the higher perceived stress from lack of sleep may contribute to a relapse.

Start early

One way to offset the shock of time change is to start adjusting early and make the transition gradually. For example, you might set your alarm 10 minutes earlier the Monday before, then another 10 minutes earlier on Tuesday, and so on. It’s much easier to adjust to a 10 minute difference than an hour difference. Also, set your clock forward the night before the change so you’re aware you’re going to bed later than usual.

Stay close to your regular schedule

The time change is supposed to be easier for happening on the weekend, but this can actually make it harder. If you stay up a little later on Saturday night and sleep a little later on Sunday morning, the time shift only feels more exaggerated, especially if you wake up late on Sunday and then realize you also have to go to bed early too. Adding an early bedtime to a short day is a perfect recipe for insomnia. Staying in on Saturday night, going to bed early, then getting up at a reasonable hour on Sunday will disrupt your sleep pattern less and make the transition easier.

Take naps

While the disturbance in sleep pattern is a problem in itself, getting too little sleep is also a problem. This can be corrected to some extent by taking naps, at least until you’re caught up. The ideal nap time is in the early afternoon. Too late, and you’ll have trouble sleeping at night. Early afternoon may conflict with your work schedule, but a Sunday nap might reduce your sleep deficit going into Monday. The best length of a nap is either a 20-minute “power nap” or a 90-minute nap that allows for a full sleep cycle. However, unless you’re seriously sleep deprived, a longer nap might make it harder to sleep at night.

Maintain good sleep habits

Don’t compound the problems of the time change with bad sleep habits. Watching TV in bed, looking at your phone, scrolling endlessly through Reddit are all great ways to ruin your sleep. Other bad habits include drinking coffee too late–even the afternoon may be too late–exercising too late, or eating a heavy dinner. Also, a sleep environment that’s noisy, bright, or hot can make it harder to sleep. Studies have found that people who sleep in complete darkness have a lower risk of depression. Quiet environments are less likely to wake you up and earplugs can help with that. When you sleep, your body temperature naturally drops a little, so a cooler room–usually 70 degrees fahrenheit or cooler–allows you to sleep more deeply. Finally, having a regular bedtime and wake-up time lets your body get into a rhythm and fall asleep more easily, but of course, that is exactly what is disrupted during daylight saving time.

Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve sleep. It reduces stress and anxiety and improves your mood. It also wears you out. After a bit of exercise, your body wants to rest and recover. Getting a bit of exercise in anticipation of an early bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily. There is one major caveat though: don’t exercise too soon before bed. Getting your heart rate up is the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to sleep. Make sure you’re finished exercising at least two hours before you plan to be in bed, and even earlier is better.

Have a bedtime ritual

We are largely creatures of habit and although time of day matters to some extent, our habits are more anchored to the order in which we do things. So, for example, you might come home from work, feed the dog, and start making dinner. You don’t put a lot of thought into it; it’s more or less automatic. If you were to do one part of your regular routine and deliberately skip the next part, you would feel a bit weird. So having a consistent bedtime ritual can offset some of the discomfort of going to bed an hour early. If you do the same things in the same order before going to bed, your brain knows it’s time to get ready to sleep. The trick is you have to remember to start your bedtime routine an hour earlier. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but once you get started, by the time you actually go to bed, it should feel more or less normal.

Be aware of how the time change might affect you.

An anxious or even manic mood that seems to come out of nowhere is more distressing than one you can prepare for. Be aware that daylight saving time is likely to disorient you to some degree, so that when you do feel anxious or unable to concentrate, you can recognize it for what it is–a temporary disturbance of your physiology.

Established in 1939, High Watch is the world’s first 12-Step treatment center. Every individual who walks through our doors joins a definitive culture of compassion, dignity, and respect from a genuinely caring staff dedicated to seeing the disease of addiction find remission. Providing proven therapeutic approaches and comprehensive 12-Step education, patients leave High Watch with the confidence to maintain abstinence and live a healthy, happy, sober life. Start your journey today by calling 860.927.3772.

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