Managing the clock change

When the clocks go back on 29th October, we gain an hour in bed – which means an extra hour’s sleep! 

However, despite the advantage of gaining an hour in bed, it can cause us problems in falling asleep and waking up at new times. To help your body adjust quickly to the new time, it is a good idea to gradually move your bedtime and wake time 20 minutes later each day in the days before the clocks change so that you get used to falling asleep and waking up later. 

On Thursday night, go to bed 20 minutes later than your usual bedtime, and wake up 20 minutes later than usual on Friday morning. On Friday night go to bed 40 minutes later than usual bedtime and wake up on Saturday morning 40 minutes later than your usual wake time. On Sunday night go to bed one hour will later than your usual bedtime and then, when the clocks change automatically overnight on Sunday, you can wake up at your usual time, and you will not experience any noticeable effects of the time change.

You could even move your breakfast, lunch and dinner a little later each day too, since the timing of mealtimes also has an impact on your internal clock. If you don’t alter your bedtime before the clocks change, you may find that you wake up too early and find yourself tossing and turning in bed until your alarm goes off. This could leave you feeling tired during the day, as though you didn’t have a good night’s sleep.

To help boost alertness in the darker autumn and winter days, make sure that you leave the house every day to get some important sunlight exposure. This will help boost your circadian rhythm.

Try to avoid caffeine after about 2pm, since caffeine has a 6 hour half-life (meaning caffeine is still in your system long after your last drink).

Lastly, practise good sleep hygiene by avoiding bright lights in the evening from your phone and laptop, as these can disrupt your natural production of melatonin.

Dr Browning’s 7 Top Sleep Tips to help you get better sleep:

1. Have a regular bedtime and wake time

Keeping a regular wake and bedtime every single day of the week will help you sleep better. When you keep a regular sleep schedule your body develops a robust circadian rhythm which helps you to sleep at the right time at night. If you go to bed early and wake up early on weekdays, but stay up late and have a lie-in on the weekend, you are giving yourself a kind of weekend “jet-lag” – making it much harder to go to sleep early on a Sunday night ready for another early start on Monday morning!

2. Have a warm bath before bed

Having a relaxing warm bath before bed will not only help you to wind down after a busy day, but also the temperature of the bath will help you fall asleep. When you go to sleep, your body temperature naturally decreases, which is why it’s so hard to sleep during a heatwave or if your bedroom is too hot. If you have a warm bath, then you artificially raise your body temperature and when you come out of the warm bath, your body temperature will naturally start to drop, mimicking the drop in temperature that happens as you fall asleep.

3. Avoid caffeine after 2pm

Caffeine has an average half-life of about 6 hours, meaning 6 hours after your last cup of tea or coffee half of the caffeine is still in your system! Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee, but also in chocolate and in soft drinks such as cola and energy drinks, including the sugar-free variety. If you have trouble sleeping, then try to have your last cup of coffee of the day before 2pm.

4. Reduce alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative and can help with falling asleep, but the sleep quality you will get will be much poor than alcohol free sleep.As the alcohol is metabolised (processed by our body), it promotes wakefulness in the latter half of the night – meaning that you wake frequently in the early hours with disrupted sleep. Also, alcohol affects the normal progression of the sleep stages we go through each night, meaning that the sleep we do get is not as restorative. Lastly, alcohol is a mild respiratory depressant, meaning that it makes breathing slightly more difficult. This is especially important for people with sleep apnoea because their sleep apnoea will be worse when they have drunk alcohol as they wake up more frequently struggling to breathe.

5. Avoid screens in bed

recent study found that 1 in 5 are kept awake by their phones. Make sure that you switch off your electronic devices an hour before bed, especially your phone. Smartphones emit blue light which has the same effect on our brains as bright daylight. 

This tricks the brain into thinking it is day time, limiting melatonin production, which can make it difficult to transition into sleep mode when bedtime rolls around. Try reading a book or some evening yoga before bed instead.

6. Increase your exercise levels

As well as being essential for overall health, exercise directly impacts your need for “deep sleep” at night. Increasing exercise levels can increase deep sleep. Deep sleep helps you to feel refreshed when you wake up, and helps with sleep continuity. 

Make sure that don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as exercise in the evening can sometimes be disruptive to sleep, due to the release of endorphins and adrenaline, as well as the rise in body temperature.

7. Don’t lie in bed for long periods if you can’t sleep

If you can’t sleep, then lying in bed trying to force sleep is one of the worst things you can do. The longer you lie in bed trying to sleep and clock watching, paradoxically the more anxious you will get about not sleeping. It’s a better idea to get up out of bed and do something else, like read a book, for a while instead of lying in bed not sleeping for hours.

Dr Lindsay Browning is the resident sleep expert for And So To Bed. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and X.

Posted by Dr Lindsay Browning
1st October 2023

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