As Americans plan to set clocks forward at 2 a.m. on March 14, many of us worry about being sleep-deprived, which often comes with changing sleep schedules. Insufficient sleep can cause serious, well-documented problems, from impaired mood and memory to overeating and heart attacks.

Hawaiians and Arizonans are exempt from this tradition, Hawaii having opted out in 1967 and Arizona in 1973. A bill in Congress would make daylight saving time permanent for the entire nation. But given that the law won’t change by the weekend, what can we do to make the switch as painless as possible?

Clinical psychologist Wendy Troxel, a Rand Corp. senior scientist, studies and writes about all sorts of problems with sleep. Her new book, “Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep,” will be published next month, and she has six tips to share about weathering the upcoming switch, whether or not you’re sleeping with someone else:

Night owls beware. We’re all on different sleep-wake schedules, as Troxel explains. Some are night owls, some are morning larks and most fall somewhere in between. The night owls, used to later bedtimes, will have the hardest time with the change and should take special care.

“Make sleep a nonnegotiable priority in the days leading up to daylight saving time,” Troxel says. “You don’t want to go into this already sleep-deprived.”

Adults should schedule seven to nine hours of sleep per night; teens, eight to 10.

Depending on when you read this, owls, you’ll still have a few days to adjust to the new schedule gradually. Troxel recommends backing up your sleep time by 15-minute increments starting several days before DST-day.

Nap not (or not a lot). You’ll probably feel sleepy on March 15, but try to avoid long daytime naps, particularly late in the day, which can make it harder to go to sleep at night, Troxel says. A better choice would be to spend time outdoors, since sunlight has a powerful influence on your circadian rhythms and can help you feel more awake. Get outside as much as possible during the day, especially in the morning.

Take it easy on yourself and others. Sleep loss can affect your mood, which in turn affects your relationships, Troxel says.

“We’re more irritable, more prone to conflict and less empathic when sleep-deprived,” she says, “so if you or your partner is a bit on edge in the days following DST, practice some patience and acceptance.”

She recommends labeling the behavior as “slangry” (like “hangry,” but sleepy and angry), with hope that a little humor will help. Recognize that your partner’s bad behavior may be at least partly due to conditions beyond his or her control, and table hot topics for a few days.

Also recognize whether you’re on different sleep-wake schedules, which may mean it’s harder for your partner to adjust.

Minimize risks. Surgeons in particular may want to reconsider their plans for March 15, given that one study found an 18 percent increase in adverse medical events related to human error in the week after switching to DST. One study showed that fatal traffic accidents also surge – by 6 percent – in the week after the clocks move ahead. Take this information seriously, Troxel says, and delay any tasks that require flawless focus.

Practice sleep hygiene. Now’s the time to be assiduous about everything you’ve already read in nearly every article ever published on good sleep habits. Namely, stick to a regular schedule as much as possible with sleep, exercise and meals. Ralph Waldo Emerson is often misquoted as having said “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He actually specified “foolish consistency,” and this isn’t that.

Bedtime routines for adults are wise, Troxel says, and should include a darkened, quiet room, and no alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, nicotine or aerobic exercise in the hours before you wind down.

Also verboten: screen time, since the high-intensity light interferes with melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleepiness. Taking a warm bath is a better idea.

For some, one small upside of the pandemic is more flexible sleep schedules, since many schools have delayed starting times for remote learning and some workers can do their jobs at home, avoiding commutes. You may want to sleep in that extra hour for a few days and make up the work on your lunch break, Troxel says, as long as you get back to your regular wake-up time as soon as possible, to reset your internal clock.

Write your lawmaker. Many sleep scientists, including Troxel, and professional organizations such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, say the science is clear: We should not only quit changing our clocks but also stick with permanent standard time, which they contend aligns best with our natural rhythms.

As Troxel says: “We have to start treating sleep like the fundamental biological need that it is.”


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