Your Doctor

Why Our Sleep is Affected by the Clocks Going Back, and How To Adjust

Good quality sleep is essential to our well-being for both physical and mental health. Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but most adults need between seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Children and teenagers need even more. 

On Sunday 27th October, the clocks will go back one hour, resulting in lighter mornings and darker evenings. This shifts the time the sun rises and sets in this country which can cause disruptions to our body clock, our circadian rhythms, because our body takes its sleeping cues from the rising and setting of the sun.  Studies show there are more car accidents the day after the clocks change but its children who sometimes struggle the most when the clocks change. 

Our transition tips for when the clocks change:

  1. The most important thing to do is to get outside during the day. Light is the principle environmental cue to our circadian rhythm so ensure you get outside as much as possible during the day to help reset your natural rhythm. Even on a cloudy day, there is plenty of natural light to reset your body clock.
  2. Eat a healthy breakfast first thing on the day the clocks change because food indicates to your body it’s the start of the day.
  3. Help young children adjust slowly by changing their bedtime by 10 or 20 minutes each day the week before the clocks change. You can even do this for yourself, over the weekend proceeding the change. 
  4. Don’t forget to change your alarm accordingly for the Monday morning!

Other tips for good ‘sleep hygiene’ for when the clocks change and throughout the year:

  • Avoid caffeine after midday.
  • No screen time in the one to two hours before bedtime.
  • A pleasant sleep environment; well ventilated, cool bedroom, with no or minimal light disturbance from bright lights and electrical appliances.
  • A relaxing bedtime routine, like a relaxing warm bath, reading or doing light stretches. 
  • As little as 20 minutes aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling can significantly improve sleep quality.
  • Have a regular bedtime and wake up time, even at weekends.
  • Minimise exposure to bright lights in the evenings, this includes screen time and watching tv.

So why is a good night’s sleep so important?

  • It improves our memory and performance. Sleep is when we consolidate information and memories accumulated throughout the day and turn them into stronger, long term memories.
  • Optimal sleep improves learning ability and problem-solving skills. It helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative.
  • Mood regulation. If you are over tired you are more likely to have mood swings, feel sad, angry or depressed, or lack motivation. 
  • Our bodies need long periods of sleep to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle and repair tissue. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. 
  • Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones for everyday body functions like appetite, fertility, puberty, sex drive and blood sugar levels. 
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. If you are sleep deficient, you may suffer from common colds more often and at increased risk of serious illness like high blood pressure.