How to sleep well during time changes

A time shift can take a toll on your sleep. Adjusting to changes in sleep patterns is hard on your body. You can take steps to avoid disruption to your sleep by learning a few simple strategies.

By Brooke L. Werneburg

Whether you're setting your clock back an hour for daylight saving time or traveling across time zones, a time shift can take a toll on your sleep. Adjusting to changes in sleep patterns is hard on your body, especially because your internal clock keeps on ticking regardless of time zone or daylight saving time. This internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is influenced by exposure to sunlight, among other factors.

When you travel across time zones, your body must adjust to a new daylight schedule and reset so you can fall asleep and be awake at the appropriate times.

During time shifts, you can take steps to help avoid disruption to your sleep. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night provides tremendous health benefits and helps you perform at your best.

Here's what you can do to prepare for sleep changes.

  • Adjust your internal clock gradually. If you know a time change is coming, adjust your sleep and wake times in small increments so your body can transition gradually. Shift your bedtime and wake time in 15- to 30-minute increments.
  • Plan ahead. If you're traveling to a different time zone, arrive at your destination early to allow yourself time to adjust and prepare for a good night's sleep. Perhaps even catching a short nap before the events ahead would allow you to adapt to the time schedule without interrupting a good night's sleep.
  • Step into the sun. Sunlight affects your body's circadian rhythm. To help maintain sleep patterns, experience sunlight upon waking or later in the day, depending on which direction you are traveling. Morning light can usually help you adjust to an earlier time zone (traveling east). And evening light helps you adapt to a later time zone (traveling west).
  • Use essential oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants and are often used in aromatherapy. Studies have shown that essential oils help reduce feelings of anxiety and produce a sense of calm.

    The following oils may help you drift off more easily: lavender, jasmine, chamomile, bergamot, rose, clary sage, neroli, sandalwood, ylang ylang and vanilla. Common ways to use essential oils are with an air diffuser or by applying a few drops to a cotton ball or tissue that you can tuck into your pillowcase. Sleep masks and pillows infused with scents from essential oils also may aid in relaxation and rest.


  • In the days leading up to a time change, make sleep a priority, whether that means going to bed earlier or avoiding electronics before bed.
  • Having a light snack before bed can help you sleep. Try munching on a piece of fruit, plain yogurt or a handful of almonds.
  • Prepare for sleep changes by taking a nap during the day. Aim to lie down at about 2 or 3 p.m. for 10 to 30 minutes. Avoid napping longer than that; otherwise, you'll feel groggy afterward.
Dec. 29, 2016 See more In-depth