How the Fall Time Change can Impact Your Health

Alarm clock surrounded by spring flowers

When we turn the clocks back in the fall, daylight savings time ends, and we return to standard time. While “falling back” at 2 a.m. and gaining an hour of sleep can be easier on the body than “springing ahead” and losing an hour of sleep, the time change can still impact your health.

An earlier sunrise and sunset tends to align better with our circadian rhythm—your body’s natural 24 hour cycle that aligns with daylight hours and nighttime hours—but the earlier sunset can cause issues such as seasonal affective disorder for some and safety issues for anyone who doesn’t like to drive after sunset as less light means reduced visibility for both drivers and pedestrians.

Plus, with any time change your schedule can be disrupted.

Make sure to add extra reminders to take your medications on time after a time change, such as leaving a note for yourself or setting a reminder notification in your smartphone. One common concern is when to take your medications the day after a time change. In general, it is recommended to keep your medications on the same schedule. So, if you take your medication at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the Saturday before the time change, take your medications at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the Sunday after the time change.

A disruption to sleep habits and the earlier sunset can also cause an increase in disorientation and erratic behavior. This is especially true for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Small changes to a schedule can feel disruptive to those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

How to counteract the effects of a time change:

  • Keep a routine: Keeping a regular sleep pattern – a change of no more than 20 minutes in when you wake up and go to bed – can help keep your internal clock on track.
  • Avoid disrupters: Caffeine, alcohol, over-the-counter sleep medications, and naps can make it more difficult to adjust to the time change.
  • Get some sun: Exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate your body's natural rhythms.
  • Be active: Engaging in light exercise such as walking, jogging, biking, or swimming in the late afternoon or early evening may help you fall asleep easier.
  • Make your room sleep-ready: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.

In addition, if you are caring for someone with dementia it can be helpful to:

  • Keep their normal routine for waking, meals, and activities
  • Limit their napping
  • Place nightlights in areas that grow dark as the sun sets
  • As evening approaches, try to create a relaxed atmosphere and keep background noise to a minimum