Health & Wellness

The 5 sleep mistakes many of us make when we turn the clocks back

On Sunday Americans turn the clock back an hour, providing many with an elusive gift — an extra hour of sleep.

“It’s actually not true. All we are doing is basically shifting the clock,” said Dr. Vaishal Shah, a sleep specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “It doesn’t give you an extra hour of sleep.”

Great. So falling back simply means it's dark at 4 p.m. and nobody’s catching more z's.

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Changing the clocks in the fall doesn't give people an extra hour of sleep.

Related: 6 ways your diet is sabotaging your sleep

What else do people get wrong about sleep and the end of daylight savings time? The experts share the biggest misunderstandings about sleep and the fall time change.

1. Falling back isn’t a big deal

People feel that falling back means they’ll be gaining not losing. They just don’t think they’ll be any problems in the fall.

That’s both right and wrong.

“There does seem to be, on average, less harmful effects on the fall transition than the spring,” said Dr. Brant Hasler, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology.

But that doesn’t mean people avoid problems. Even after falling back people report experiencing poorer sleep and feeling groggy for days.

“One study showed effects up to five days and it was because they were waking up earlier than their desired time,” Hasler said.

It's only slightly better than spring when people experience problems for seven days.

What’s more—a surge of car accidents occur on Sunday after falling back, possibly because people are sleep deprived from the time change.

Related: Should your pets sleep in the bed with you? A new study's surprising answers

2. People forget to take their time

Most simply change their clocks before bed on Saturday and do little else to prepare for the time change. The following week, they're waking up too early and feeling sleepy throughout the day.

But this can be avoided.

Prior to the time change, go to bed 15 minutes later.

Then the next day, 15 minutes later than that.

Incrementally working up to an hour later helps the body make a smoother transition.

“Our clocks are not meant to make these sharp adjustments. Try to do some preparatory adjustment or slow shifting over time,” said Hasler.

3. We spend that extra hour at the bar

Some people use that extra hour to socialize. They rationalize they can sleep in later the next day.

Not exactly.

“Instead of taking advantage of the extra hour of sleep you are taking advantage of the extra hour to drink,” Hasler said. "Last call is an hour later. People are staying up later.”

The problem with drinking too much too late? It leads to poor sleep; even if people get that extra hour, they're still running at a sleep deficit.

Alcohol helps people initially fall asleep and sleep more deeply, but booze disrupts the sleep architecture. Later in the sleep cycle people experience restless sleep.

Hasler encourages people to avoid the temptation to drink later on Sunday; it makes the grogginess from the time change linger.

Related: Snooze on your side? How your sleep position can impact your health

4. They don’t use light

Light controls the circadian clock, which determines the sleep wake cycle. Lots of light causes the body to feel awake and suppresses melatonin, a hormone that induces sleepiness. That’s why it’s important that people see light, especially sunlight, early in the morning.

“If you get up start your day; be exposed to bright light,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

This morning light helps people's clocks adjust faster to the new time.

The fall time change affects morning larks more than night owls; they get up an hour earlier but often fall asleep at the same time, resulting in a sleep loss. If they're desperate for an extra hour, Hasler suggests they remain in bed in the dark to try to stay sleepy and possibly snooze longer.

Related: 11 ways to get to sleep faster

5. They nap

Maybe you stayed out to later because you were taking advantage of that extra hour of sleep (which you didn’t get). Now, you're dragging.

No harm in taking a long nap, right?

Well, that depends.

A nap could shift your sleep schedule too late, meaning you go to bed later but still have a regular wake time. This causes too little sleep.

“We have something building called sleep pressure, how likely we are going to be sleepy. When people take nap that pressure goes down in the middle of the day. Now it takes much longer to fall asleep and it can backfire,” said Shah. “One chunk of a good night of sleep 8 hours or so—instead of six hours and two hours—is better.”

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