Sleep Better During Times of Change

Laurel Schaefer, a Nurse Practitioner with the Sleep Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, shares insightful knowledge about adjusting to Daylight Saving Time and good sleep habits​.

Begin Transcript

Tanicia Haynes:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Tanicia Haynes with Occupational Health.  This month we will be discussing Daylight Saving Time and good sleep habits with Laurel Schaefer, a Nurse Practitioner in the Sleep Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  Thank you, Laurel, for taking the time to speak with us today.

Laurel Schaefer:  Hey, Tanicia.  I am glad to be here.

Tanicia Haynes:  Daylight Saving Time happens this month, and some of us do seem to get a little bit more tired when this change happens.  Do you have any tips or any advice that you could offer about maybe how we could reduce the amount of how sleepy some of us get at this time of the year?

Laurel Schaefer:   So, that means that evenings will have more daylight and mornings will have less daylight.  So, it is important to know that these environmental cues , especially with having different times that we are experiencing daylight, can actually affect our circadian rhythms.  These are patterns that help determine our behaviors, especially what time we go to sleep at night and what time we wake up.  So, it's important to know that adjusting to a new sleep schedule can often take up to a week to adjust just for one hour of change.  Adjustment is worse for people who are early risers or short sleepers.  We usually define that as people who get less than 7-1/2 hours of sleep nightly.  So, a couple of tips that we can use to get through this period of change is to try to avoid bright light about an hour before we plan to go to bed, and I think, for a lot of us, the biggest source of bright light is watching T.V. or using our phones or iPads or whatever electronics you like to use, up until bedtime.  A lot of times these types of electronics can send a blue light to our brain, which causes our brain to feel more alert and active.  So, I would recommend trying to turn off these electronics about an hour before we plan to go to bed.  Another way to help feel more alert is to actually get these bright lights the first thing in the morning when we wake up.  So, for many people, they might find it helpful to use a sunlamp, but an easier way is just to open up your blinds, let the daylight in, turn on bright lights in your bedroom when you wake up first thing in the morning.  And other things that can help us get through it a little bit easier is regular exercise.  Exercise actually helps us to feel more sleepy at the end of the day when it is time to go to bed, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule.  Once we adjust to Daylight Savings, it is really important that we are keeping the schedule because it is going to help us feel more alert during the day and more tired at the end of the day.  So, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time

Tanicia Haynes:  Since we are kind of getting into spring and people have spring break vacations with their kids planned, or maybe they just want to go on a cruise for the summer or something like that, for people who experience a lot of jet lag when they travel far distances, do you have any tips on how to maybe reduce that for those people?

Laurel Schaefer:  Sure.  When we are traveling to a place with a different time zone, it is kind of similar to the Daylight Savings concept.  Our circadian rhythms are going to be thrown off because we are going to be getting different environmental cues .  We are going to see the sun setting and sun rising at different times than we are used to.  Some of the biggest tips I have are try to adapt good sleep habits before you go on vacation.  So, if you are a short-sleeper, or you are having a lot of fatigue during the day, you are going to have a lot more trouble getting used to a new time schedule when you travel.  Keep an eye on the time change of your destination.  So, if it is nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the plane.  This can be sometimes difficult because we won't be used to sleeping at this time.  So, sometimes using tools like wearing an eye mask or earplugs on the plane can help us tune out some of the stimulating noises or lights that may be keeping us awake.  Also, avoid alcohol.  I think it is pretty common for people now to have a drink before they get on the plane, and alcohol can actually disrupt our sleep even more on our way to our destination.  Also, try to adapt your sleep schedule a little bit before you take off on vacation.  So, if you are traveling east, try to go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before you leave, and if you are traveling west, try to go to bed one hour later for a few days before you leave.

Tanicia Haynes:  Lastly, would you have any suggestion to anyone about maybe one great tip that most people could use that could help with their sleep habits or help them get a better night's sleep, something that maybe universally works for most patients that you see in your clinic?

Laurel Schaefer:  I think probably the most common thing I hear about in the sleep clinic is watching T.V. up until bedtime.  For a lot of people, that is part of their nighttime routine and that is how they relax at night, but again, like I said, watching T.V. can really disrupt our sleep patterns because that blue light is keeping us alert and active.  So, I would encourage you to turn off T.V., computer, phone, all electronics one hour before bed. .  In addition, avoiding caffeine and alcohol at night can really help you to sleep a lot better.  Whether we realize it or not, sometimes caffeine or alcohol can act as a stimulant and can actually help us to stay awake at night when we want to be going to sleep.  We should also have a relaxing bedtime routine, so doing things like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or even listening to soothing music can help us to sleep a little bit better.  Another tip is to try to use your bedroom only for sleep.  So, doing things like studying in bed might make it a little bit harder to fall asleep at night.  So, I think if you follow those, you should be in good shape for Daylight Savings time change, but if, for any reason, you are feeling like, even after a week, you are still having a lot of trouble with the time change or having trouble getting through your daily activities during the day, we would want to see you in the Sleep Clinic.  So, if that is the case, feel free to give us a call to schedule an appointment - (615) 936-0060.

Tanicia Haynes:  Well, thank you so much, Laurel.  I think that is great tips for everyone as far as vacations and with this daytime change for all of us to help us all sleep better at night and be better when we wake.  Thank you so much for interviewing with us.

Laurel Schaefer:  Oh, thank you, Tanicia.  This has been fun.

Tanicia Haynes:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at, or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at