How to Spring Forward and Ease the Transition

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By Lisa Smusz, MS, LPCC

Having a hard time adjusting to Daylight Savings time? Feeling restless or fatigued and irritable? There may be a biological reason for your Spring Fever.

This week we find ourselves in the midst of two significant shifts: Daylight savings time (when we advance our clocks by an hour), and the Spring Equinox (March 20, 2016). Both add up to more daylight hours and changing sleep patterns.

Even very subtle changes in the amount of light triggers a change in the production of melatonin in our brains, which is elevated during the dark winter months.  For some people who live with Seasonal Affective Disorder (sometimes called SAD) this is good news, as the symptoms of SAD tend to decrease as the amount of light increases.

For many others though the change in light, time, and melatonin adds up to disrupted sleep patterns, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and irritability, or — as any grade school teacher will tell you — restlessness.

Why the conflicting symptoms? As your body transitions from the lower body temperature and higher blood pressure common in Winter to the higher body temperature and lower blood pressure in Spring, complex hormonal changes are happening that can trigger physical and psychological symptoms.

Luckily, you can take steps to ease the transition. For example, as tempting as it may be to grab that second cup of coffee late in the day when your energy naturally is at a low ebb it may be best to hold off. Having caffeine late in the day may make it difficult to go to sleep at the new time and cause a cycle of sleep disruption that makes fatigue and irritability worse. The same goes for that extra glass of wine you may be having to try and relax and get yourself to bed earlier – in the end, it disrupts your sleep patterns and makes your symptoms worse, not better.

The safer bet is to try to acclimate to the change in time and adjust to the earlier bedtime by limiting blue light in the evening, which allows your brain to naturally produce the melatonin you need for better sleep and a better state of mind.

Try these strategies for a quicker adjustment to Spring (for you, or your children):

  • Try room darkening shades to create a darker environment for sleep when the sun is out later.
  • Avoid any “blue-light” (the light that comes from TVs, tablets, and smartphones) for at least two hours prior to bedtime.
  • Lower the temperature of the room near bedtime
  • Keep regular bed and wake times, even on the weekend

34f0e76Lisa Smusz is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with more than 15 years of experience operating large-scale mental health projects and has internationally published works on stigma reduction, and interventions for at-risk youth. Ms. Smusz currently heads her own consulting company and is an instructor at California State University, East Bay.

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