Springing forward: the benefits of daylight saving
Although commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, or George Vincent Hudson or William Willett, the change of clocks has been seemingly traced to 1916 Germany making the decision to move their clocks forward to save energy - with other governments then following suit. "Springing forward" (and "Falling back") hasn't remined a popular behaviour, with 84% of Europeans polled preferring NOT to do it.
For me, I guess it depends on whether you see it as "losing an hour's sleep", or "gaining an hour's daylight". And I admit, I used to see it as the former.
The world is not set up for wellbeing - so set your OWN corner up to be!
With busy-ness being a "badge of honour", losing an hour can raise anxiety, and an already disrupted sleep pattern can then take another knock if stress and worry come to call so here are some things you can do if you are struggling with sleep:
1. Have a "Wind Down" Routine
- Have a glass of water by your bed
- Keep a writing pad by your bed for when you wake in the middle of the night and need to remember something – write it down (try not to open your phone!)
- Plan for the next day if you need to (eg. Clothes, lunch prep)
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks about 6 hours before bed – and instead have a camomile tea, or warm water, or even warm milk
- Sometimes people find exercising at night helps (others don’t – heed your body’s response to whatever you try), and after exercising, a bath tends to be more soothing than a shower (unless it feels “too long” for you).
- Go to the toilet!
- Set your alarm
- Come off social media/your smartphone and hour before bed – leaving an “out of office” message if necessary (and utilise the pen and paper for ideas should you need – see point
2. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable
Small things like making sure your bedroom is well ventilated, dark enough and at a comfortable temperature will also help.
WFH tip: if you are largely working from home - don't associate the bed with the adrenaline of work; nor work with the restful dreaming of sleep!
Hayfever/Cat owner tip: Consider whether a mini fan/de-humidifier unit may be preferable to an open window.
3. Try simple breathing exercises in bed
Then of course, simple centred breathing (breathing in for 4, holding for 2, and out through the mouth for 6) whilst listening to nature sounds, gentle music, or even a relaxation podcast can be the final step for restful night.
For some, it helps, for others it doesn't. Sometimes exercise and a bath rather than a shower works - but give it a go, and stick to a routine that works for you.
5. Adjust your light
On average, a person’s “internal body clock” – naturally rises and falls in energy within a 24 hour period. However this responds very well to light – especially natural light. If it is dark then our brain signals to release melatonin which makes us sleepy – hence why when a flight crosses time zones the aeroplane lights are dimmed or brightened to try and get your body as adjusted as possible to your arrival time. When there is light – especially natural light – the melatonin stops. This means that if you wake with natural daylight outside, it can be difficult to return to sleep because your internal processes are already signalling that it is time to rise.
Similar to how one might do well to have lower lights in the evening – or brighter lights in the morning (perhaps rising to a "SAD" lamp - a lamp that simulates daylight combatting the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder), one of the tips I give people who are trying to have as uneventful a night as possible is to invest in some blackout curtains to avoid the light shining through – especially as the days get longer, and if you are a light sleeper, or perhaps adjusting to shift work.
Light is not the only issue that can affect your ability to sleep however – the reason it is often the first element to consider when trying to change a sleeping pattern is because your circadian rhythm is so responsive to it.
Protect your sleep
Your body has trouble adjusting when you have not slept enough, and the complexity of life can cause you to disrupt (or “override”) your preferred circadian rhythm (a body clock of between 24 - 26 hrs, different for individuals).
Being sleep deprived can result in irritability, an inability to think rationally as well as a lowered immune system – and as such this can cause further problems in the context of work and relationships. Jet lag is a good example of the feelings one may experience when the circadian rhythm is disrupted...the clocks changing, although a smaller effect, can be another. (A tip for Jet lag is immediately setting your clock to the arrival time zone on the plane - and yesterday I set my clocks forward in the evening - to subtly boost my mental preparation.)
Sleep is also your body’s opportunity to repair and plays a role in regulating the production of hormones important for health. If you do not sleep enough – ie. disobey our circadian rhythm/need to get x hours of sleep – you may produce more ghrelin – the hormone which signals hunger. However if you sleep an amount that is appropriate for you, you produce less ghrelin and more leptin (which supresses hunger). Further if you are not sleepy you have a greater capacity to make healthy choices as you tend to be more focused.
The benefits of daylight
Humans have a tendency to biophilia - an attraction to nature - and of course that extra hour means we have more time in it! (The story goes that in 1915 William Willett was so avid a campaigner to move the clocks forward in order to have more daylight for his after-work golf game.) Perhaps he had the right idea!
That extra hour means we have a longer evening - more time in the daylight, more opportunity to enjoy the outside with friends. Not only that, but with sunlight producing more vitamin D, boosting your immune system and making us feel brighter, you are likely to have more fun doing it too!!
Researchers have found:
- Better recovery rates when patients see trees from hospital beds
- Improved short term memory
- Reduction in the symptoms of stress and depression
...and fresh air helps the lungs clear, and simply being out in nature "Forest Bathing" is a GP recommended pursuit!
Further, being outdoors together (even, right now, at a social distance), is a great way to reconnect with each other and the community.
Tips to enjoy the extra daylight
- Try some gardening. Not only will it help dexterity, but you get to create a view of colour - or perhaps grow your own food, and it might even teach patience and nurture too!
- Get out with friends and family (or just on your own). Go for that walk, breathe deeply, listen to the birds, feel the textures of nature...a quick mindful walk around the block will clear your mind to better concentrate when you return to your desk.
- Take some photos and brighten your laptop, phone or room with a sunny screensaver.
Pictures of a beautiful place or sunny climate, offer us a quick reminder of happy times and memories. This can generate a sense of warmth and relaxation even with wind beating at the door. Humans are are often quickly moved by imagery, and having photos of places you love (with the ensuing memories of people we love attached), can reinforce those feelings of affection as well.
- Keep evergreens, fresh fruit, flowers or greenery
Pine smells great, and researchers at Kyoto university in Japan found that healthy volunteers who strolled through a pine forest for 15 minutes a day reported more positive ratings on a mood scale compared with those who did not. Keeping fresh flowers, plants, and colourful fruits around will also brighten your environment – and the latter will keep your last weeks of lockdown snacking healthy.
- Try something new outside
On a bright day, go for a walk taking a new path. Enjoy the new experiences such as the sensation of the sun, the breeze, the new smells or sounds, and see who you meet on your adventure. Or, join a class or try a new hobby. You might discover new skills, find an outlet for your inner-diva, or perhaps some interesting people to bounce ideas with. The best part of all of course, is as an adult – remember you can choose to leave if you don’t like it!!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.