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Your Brain On: Daylight Savings Time

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You may wonder how much Daylight Savings Time (DST) really affects you. Sure, waking up for work on Monday will be tough, and you might feel a little groggy throughout the morning—but by noon, you’re back to normal…right?

Maybe, says Pete Bils, vice president of sleep innovation and clinical research at Sleep Number. But there are certain factors that amplify that lost hour. First, since DST falls on a weekend, you’ve probably slept in for a night or two—which means it feels as if you’re losing more like two or three hours, explains Bils. “Plus, most Americans are sleep-deprived already,” he says. “Add another hour on top of that, and it puts a lot of people in the danger zone.” (Check out 4 Times You Need More Sleep.)

The type of sleep you’re missing matters too, says Bils. The first half of the night, you’re mostly in slow-wave sleep. The second half is rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. During DST, you lose Zs from the latter stage because you wake up an hour earlier than you normally would. (See the Unhealthy Food Cravings Caused by Just One Less Hour of Sleep.)

But, says Bils, REM sleep impacts nearly every aspect of brain function: creativity, emotional stability, even pain tolerance. As a result, on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday you may find yourself struggling with writers’ block, snapping at loved ones, road raging, and crying over (mental and physical) hurts you might otherwise shake off.

Another possible side effect of DST: your cravings are harder to ignore. The reason is two-fold, explains Bils. Poor sleep negatively affects your willpower, for one. And it causes your brain to produce less leptin, a hormone that suppresses your appetite, and more ghrelin, a hormone that revs hunger. So if you have trouble turning down the donuts someone brings into your Monday morning meeting, blame it on DST. (Learn more about How Your Sleep Schedule Affects Your Weight Gain and Disease Risk.)

Finally, adds Bils, when you’re sleep-deprived, you experience a spike in evening cortisol levels. That might make you feel stressed, or even make it harder to drift off when you go to bed at night. But this is more pronounced if you’ve been skimping on shuteye for a while due to a condition like insomnia or sleep apnea. (Always Tired? Sleep Apnea Could Be to Blame.)

So what can you do about it? The best way to minimize the negative effects of losing an hour of sleep is to prep now. Head to bed 15 minutes earlier each night leading up to the change. And on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Bils recommends throwing open the blinds and flipping on the brightest lights in your house as soon as you wake up. “Light tells your brain to completely shut off melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy, to reset your clock faster,” he explains.

Also smart: avoiding lights (even from your electronics) in the hour before you plan to head to bed to kick-start your brain’s melatonin production, and cutting yourself off from caffeine around 11 a.m. to ensure there’s none lingering in your body when it’s time for sleep. (Find out How Much Coffee is Too Much.)

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