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Coping with the clock change

With clocks set to spring forward on Sunday 26 March, read our top tips to help minimise the impact of an hour’s less sleep.

For many, the clock change signals the arrival of spring. But the start of British Summer Time not only brings the prospect of longer, warmer days - it can also play havoc with our sleep. 

Sleep and the clock change

“The change from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time is unavoidable, but it is counterintuitive in terms of our body clock and sleep patterns," said chronobiology expert Dr Victoria Revell, Head of Strategic Development at the Surrey Clinical Research Centre.

"Moving the clocks forward will result in delaying the clock time of sunrise and thus the time that we receive the morning bright light necessary to keep our body clock on track. 

“Scheduling this time change for a weekend compounds the problem, as in addition to the clock change we tend to have different sleeping patterns during the weekend, so an even greater shift in internal timing is required to get us back on track come Monday morning.”

Clock change tips

Prepare your body 

Try gradually shifting the timing of your body clock in the days before the clock change. For example, if for the three days before the clock change you progressively get up and go to bed 20 minutes earlier each day, and experience bright light upon awakening, then by Sunday your body will already be on British Summer Time.

Get outside

Open the curtains and try to get outside (or use a light box) soon after you wake up on Sunday 27 March. This bright light will not only boost your mood and alertness, it will also provide the signal the body needs to push the body clock earlier in time.

Avoid staying up and getting up late

Try to stick as close as possible to your weekday sleep schedule during a clock change weekend. If you let yourself have a lie in and drift into a later weekend sleep pattern, you’ll need an even bigger shift in internal timing to adapt and get up for the first day back at work.

Read our top tips for a good night’s sleep and try our sleep quiz to discover whether your sleep habits mean you’re an owl or a lark.

Learn more about research at Surrey and our programmes in the field of Biosciences and Medicine.

This feature was first published on Thursday 27 March 2014.

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