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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 02, 2009

Dear Mark: Time Change

By Mark Sisson
32 Comments

If you ask people whether “falling back” or “springing forward” hits them hardest, most will say spring. (I’m in this camp also.) I’ll admit that I love the extra hour of sleep in fall but dread the reverse a few months later. Switching the clock (in either direction) can leave you feeling oddly displaced, like you’re never where you’re supposed to be at any given time. The world is going about its business in the usual routine, but something feels off. For some people, sleep is the area hardest hit and the last thing to finally adjust. I get emails pretty frequently about sleep. For some readers, it’s the final frontier in their Primal conversion. Not surprisingly, time changes (both fall and spring) seem to inspire more emails on this front. To summarize the batch, a lot of people feel thrown for a couple of weeks and struggle somewhat to keep their energy up while they transition their sleep schedules.

Switching the clocks is just one of those things that underscore how our modern life inevitably strays from natural rhythms. We change the clocks in the interest of energy efficiency, kids at the bus stop in the morning, etc. The setup addresses modern needs, but there’s a larger context here. For all but a small fraction of our evolutionary history, humans have equated natural light with awake and dark with sleep. We are still products of that environment, no matter how many bulbs are burning in our houses at 11:00 at night. Some of the best, most restful sleep I’ve ever gotten was the nights I spent without electricity. There’s the camping of course, but even in the otherwise “civilized” comfort of modern shelter the same pattern held true. A few years back Carrie and I were visiting friends in New England, and some bad winds knocked out power for two days of our trip. At first the candles and novelty were fun. We talked around the wood stove and relished the quiet, but the darkness got the best of us pretty quickly. It wasn’t much later than 8:00 when we all packed it in. Not surprisingly, we all felt great the next day.

Fortunately, “falling back” to standard time actually gives us a chance to be more in line with the natural light, and for a night or two we might go with it. Some of us voluntarily or grudgingly turn in early for a couple of weeks and then roam the house alone at 5:00 a.m. only to need a second cup of coffee before even leaving for work. In most cases, it doesn’t take us long though to get back in our old habits. As some telling, but not surprising, research highlighted last year, our modern sleep habits are more tied to primetime T.V. schedules (among other modern impositions) than to natural circadian instinct. We stay up to watch the opening monologues or maybe finish a work project, to read one more chapter of a novel or fold one more load of laundry while the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Taking advantage of that extra hour of sleep, or at least hitting the pillow “early” the next night feels too luxurious for our hyper-conscientiousness culture.

In terms of physiology, there’s a legitimate toll to the whole time change project. The circadian rhythm is a powerful physical phenomenon – right down to the molecular level. Hormonal levels, blood pressure, body temperature, even gene activity are directed by it. Although circadian rhythm is ordered and maintained internally, it’s obviously influenced by the external, namely light and dark cycles.

Lucky for us right now, standard time is more in line with natural light/dark cycles. The big problems, researchers have found, occur in the spring, when more of us find ourselves really dragging and companies see a rise in workplace injuries because people are tired. Researchers, analyzing large surveys, have even found evidence that suggests we’re wired to stay on standard time. During non-working days, scientists found, “the timing of sleep…follows the seasonal progression of dawn under standard time, but not under DST.” In fact, their study (which also included observation of 50 individuals) concluded that, overall, humans’ circadian rhythm doesn’t truly adjust to daylight savings time period. (The people most negatively impacted, not surprisingly, were the night owls among the group.) Messing with our bodies’ natural physiological patterns has, as you might expect, real consequences. A study presented to the Society for Neuroscience showed that mice whose day/night cycles were thrown off exhibited “weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioral changes”. (Those of us who have ever been sleep deprived can probably identify with these creatures.) Incidentally, metabolic hormones – including insulin – were affected by the day/night cycle changes.

As to sleep transitions, I’d say celebrate the extra hour and the return to standard time. (Your inner Grok approves.) As we all learn to live with a little less light in the evenings, accept the natural cue to slow down at night. Feel what it’s like to take on a rhythm more in sync with the seasonal progression. One of the keys to good sleep is the effective transition to a state of calm and rest. Use the time change to inspire that kind of routine. Dim the lights earlier. Turn off the technology. If you have that wood stove (or even some candles), take advantage. Getting on track in large part means getting in touch with the messages your body is sending. Maintain a good Primal diet, eat an early dinner if you can, and be patient with the transition. Turn down the noise of life and remake late evenings into what they were intended to be – a time to enjoy, relax and unwind.

Hope everybody had a good weekend. As always, thanks for the questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

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22 Comments on "Dear Mark: Time Change"

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Grok
7 years 1 month ago

Nice post. I always dread the setback and am bummed that now I’m losing an hour of my evening hunts, but you’ve shed some new light (no pun intended) on the subject.

Funny thing… I had forgotten about the clock switch, but naturally gave myself a new earlier bedtime and reset my alarm for earlier on Halloween.

primalman
primalman
7 years 1 month ago
I will make a comment on this as treating patients for sleep difficulties plays a part in my practice. The human body clock actually operates on a 24 1/2 hour day on average (there is individual variation of course). This happens when people live in enviroments devoid of natuarl sunlight and without clocks. It is also the reason that people are tempted to saty up a little bit later each night and awaken a little later each morning. Thus, it is our biological pre-disposition to make the day longer. When we “fall back” we are making the day longer so… Read more »
hypnotik
hypnotik
7 years 1 month ago

Getting restful sleep has always been an issue for me, especially since I’m a light sleeper. Quality, rather than quantity, is what’s important to me.

Like Mark states, certain activities need to be avoided before bed, which is something I have to work on. I have a habit of being on the computer (like many people) up until bedtime, which can throw off my sleep schedule.

Relaxing with dim lights seems like a good idea, maybe with a light neck or foot massage thrown in. I’m sure my fiancee won’t have a problem with this 🙂

Matt
Matt
7 years 1 month ago

Yeah, some good points here. I read in Paul Chek’s book that people need to stop using computers and televisions at least two hours before they hit the hay. I guess the bright screens of televisions and computers cause our bodies to release cortisol (?) which tells our body to stay up. And of course, being asleep by 10:30 is another very important thing to do. Of course, I can’t manage to do this, but I hope to gradually work my way into this habit eventually.

Ris
Ris
7 years 1 month ago

I despise daylight savings time. To save energy…I’m all for saving energy, being green, etc. But come on…switching the clocks? I find it ridiculous. The clock is just a number, I also wish we didn’t have those too. I feel life would be simpler…*sighs* I want a simple life away from all this culture we live it. They like to make things too complicated.

Chris P.
Chris P.
7 years 1 month ago
I find that quality helps me more than quantity (although I would love 7.5 hrs of sleep, sometimes it’s hard to do). So getting multiples of 90 minute REM cycles (at least 4 cycles = 6 hours of sleep) helps me feel more awake and fresh by waking up in a “shallow” state of sleep than forcing my body to wake up from a deep sleep. Everyone will be a little different, I found my cycles are a little shorter than 90 minutes. If you have a weekend to sleep in, notice the time you go to bed/fall asleep and… Read more »
paleo_piper
7 years 1 month ago
Extra hour indeed. I was so tired last night that I slept a full twelve hours. Plus, I woke up late. 11am, instead of my usual 9am. I still don’t get these time changes, you’re not saving any actual thing. I spent the first 24 years of my life on Hawaii, where we don’t have DST. I’m a night owl too, so maybe that’s also why the time change messes me up so bad. I can remember being as young as nine and still being awake and active as late as 11pm. That hasn’t changed. I don’t follow the “it’s… Read more »
Hiit Mama - Meredith
7 years 1 month ago

Go camping! I love camping with my family. We’re conked out around sundown and up at dawn. Who knows how long we sleep, but I always feel so refreshed after a camping trip.

Justin De Quim
Justin De Quim
7 years 1 month ago

try this…MR16 Solux 3500k 50 watt 12v 24degree spot light…..the connectors are a matter of dollars or by a clamp on fixture….flip it on for a boost…..keep at least 2.5 feet away..even though lux tapers off massively at 2 ft its ways too powerful.

Works like a dream

Haha
Haha
7 years 1 month ago

It seems like everyone I talk to is somehow affected by this small change in the time. Some were feeling out of pace with the world, and others just slightly off.

Personally, my sleep schedule is sporadic and unpredictable. It’s based on how tired I am from the activity of my day.

Hell yeah, Benjamin Franklin.

PrimalK
7 years 1 month ago

I find the changes both ways tough and always have done, since I was a child.

Indiscreet
Indiscreet
7 years 1 month ago
I’m the polar opposite of most people. I am in the UK so our clocks went back two weeks ago, and I loathe the darker evenings. I wish we were on British Summer Time all year. I also find it much harder travelling west than east. I was lucky enough to visit Korea and Japan in September – an 8 hour time difference from the UK. Going there, I adjusted to their time almost instantly, relishing the shorter day of arrival and (therefore) earlier bedtime. The flight home felt as though it went on forever and it took me about… Read more »
Indiscreet
Indiscreet
7 years 1 month ago

*depends – sorry about the typo

Jen
Jen
7 years 1 month ago

The hardest part for me is the headache of getting the kids back on track. I’ll be happy when they aren’t getting up at 5 a.m.!

Redison
3 years 11 months ago

Aahahhaaaa!! The render was about 2hours, 1.5hours to print and 500mins to upoald. I have a pretty fast quad core. It is the upoald that thats the longest for me. The 8hour rain one I did took 1700mins to upoald.

Yummy
Yummy
7 years 1 month ago

To me the annoying thing about “fall back” is that it is pitch dark before I am even thinking about leaving work for the day. I find it depressing. I guess I am just a long days of summer person!

Sandie
Sandie
7 years 29 days ago
I work nights (11pm to 7am) by choice, as I have been an “owl” from childhood; must be hereditary, we are all owls on my mother’s side. I even stay up almost all night when I am not working. I find the fall back more difficult, partially because I like when the mornings are dark as I am about to go to sleep. Also, by the time I wake up in the afternoon, it is almost dark, so I see very little daylight in the winter. I seem to adjust to the spring ahead better (maybe we backward circadian people… Read more »
Benji
Benji
7 years 29 days ago
I’ve always had a harder time with the Fall. I become nocturnal in the Fall and Winter and tend to have a hard time accomplishing economical goals because my schedule is opposite of most of the people in my society. In the Spring and Summer, I jump-start and rarely sit down or relax. I’m up early and I usually don’t tire out until the birds start chirping again the next morning. The only three things that ever make me want to sleep are morning dew, which makes my joints ache, the sound of cars on the streets after a long,… Read more »
heykapo
heykapo
7 years 27 days ago
One of my favorite health topics. I’m a long sleeper, generally 11 hours a night, and I’ve noticed the same effects from camping and candlelight as Mark has. Because I require so much sleep, it’s easier for me to sleep like Grok. I’m up just before first light, and dusk finds me making the dinner. I’m asleep by 7 or 8 in the winter, and I sleep less in the summer time. It is true that I never watch primetime TV and that I have no social life outside of coffee breaks, but some might say that’s a good thing.… Read more »
heykapo
heykapo
7 years 27 days ago

I wonder what the owls did in Grok’s day. Perhaps they were ostracized for using up all the firewood.

PHK
PHK
6 years 8 months ago

or all normal Groks thank those
owl Groks” for guarding them in the nights! haha ^_^

Nads
Nads
3 years 1 month ago

In Queensland (Australia) we keep voting not to have daylight savings, whenever there is another trial and poll. We have very hot weather and traditionally not many homes have air con, though this is changing. I dislike daylight savings, but what I dislike more is the people who think that those of us who don’t like it are dimwitted and somehow backwards.

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