That post-summer sluggishness usually kicks in every October as we head into fall. The temperatures drop and the one thing that makes winter’s rapid approach evident regardless of climate is the loss of daylight.
For many, this loss of daylight also leads to a loss of energy, an uptick in short temper and even bouts of depression.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, an NYC based licenses clinical psychologist and faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teachers College, offers practical tips to prepare for the clock change.
Before we get into the tips, it’s important to understand the clock change’s impact on our brains and therefore our bodies, so we understand what is actually going on. Dr. Sanam Hafeez explains that “a cell in the retinas of our eyes called a ganglion cell contains the photopigment melanopsin. When we are exposed to sunlight, melanopsin signals a pathway to cells in the hypothalamus specifically responsible for regulating our bodies biological functions. This process then triggers the pineal gland which is in charge of melatonin secretion which peaks at night and wears off during the day. In simpler terms, the less light exposure we get, more out of whack we feel.”
According to Dr. Hafeez, the following simple adjustments leading up to the clock falling back can make a significant difference for those who don’t struggle with more severe depression or bipolar disorder.
1. Avoid alcohol.
When the clocks are turned back in the fall, many bars stay open an additional hour. This is typically celebrated by people in their 20’s and 30’s who only pay for it the next day opting to sleep away their Sunday. Drinking alcohol before turning back the clocks can add more sluggishness the next morning. “Even with just a one-hour clock change, our body’s circadian rhythm is thrown off making our brains a bit confused. Alcohol only heightens these effects,” explains Dr. Hafeez. Imagine the double whammy of a hangover after the fall back clock change?
2. Enjoy physical activity during the daytime.
The more time spent outside in the daylight doing physical activity, the less sluggish you will feel once the clocks fall back. Fall is a great time to power walk or go for a run. If you’re an early riser then you will love the earlier sunrise at least for the next few weeks. “A lot of people shift their exercise routines to include more high energy group workouts in the evenings to give themselves something to look forward to as a way to shake off the workday. You really want to pay attention to when you feel most energized and align your exercise to that,” suggests Dr. Hafeez.
3. Don’t sleep in. Go to bed earlier instead.
In the days leading up to the clock change, add extra “wind-down” time before bed and get to bed an hour earlier. On the Sunday morning of the clock change, people mistakenly opt to sleep in. You really want to stick to the same wake-up time while getting to bed earlier. That’s the key according to Dr. Hafeez. “People think they are gaining an hour of sleep, they’re not because at bedtime they’re losing it. When you keep the wake-up time and get to bed earlier that extra hour isn’t felt as much the next day,” explains Dr. Hafeez.
4. Avoid watching the news before bed.
People think that getting to bed an hour earlier means it’s okay to watch TV in bed before sleep. TV or any kind stimulates the brain. Your favorite show causes you to focus when you’re trying to shut down stimulation. The news is even worse. You get wrapped up in the doom and gloom watching the news. “If you want to really make sure you still wake up refreshed, opt for tranquil music or guided meditations available on YouTube or an app," recommends Dr. Hafeez.
5. Plan ahead! Consider taking Monday off!
For those who find their mood is negatively impacted after the fall clock change, consider taking Monday off and make it about self-care. Waking up early, taking advantage of the early light, enjoying a healthy breakfast, getting a massage or catching up on reading, tidying and whatever you feel necessary to feel good, do it. “People can feel the effects of the clock change for up to three weeks. Taking a day off to focus on your own well-being can become a nice post clock change ritual,” she says.