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Maintaining good health during a time change adjustment

November 1, 2018

On Sunday, November 4, Daylight Savings Time ends and we’ll set our clocks back one hour. But what happens to our internal clocks? Are some people more sensitive to time changes? How does it affect the way we sleep?

We asked these questions to Dr. Roger Godbout, a CIHR-funded researcher from the University of Montreal who studies how sleep affects our functioning in daily life and specializes in preventative measures against sleep loss.

Audio – Interview with Dr. Roger Godbout

Originally published on October 28, 2015


Dr. Roger Godbout, Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal
Photo Courtesy of University of Montreal.

This is David Coulombe for CIHR’s Health Research in Action news. Twice a year, we experience time change and even if it’s one hour forward or backward, we have to cope with the consequences, particularly on our sleeping habits.

To talk about the impact of time change on our sleeping habits, my guest today is Dr. Roger Godbout, a researcher funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

David Coulombe: Dr. Godbout, hello.

Dr. Roger Godbout: Hi.

David Coulombe: Dr. Godbout, is it true that time change has an impact on our sleep?

Dr. Roger Godbout: Yes it does. It has a different impact during the fall than in the spring. When we change the time in the fall, people supposedly gain one hour of sleep. It might not be true for everyone though.

David Coulombe: Can we prevent or prepare for that change?

Dr. Roger Godbout: We can prepare ourselves effectively by setting supper time a few minutes later each day until we gradually reach the predicted time, within a week, let’s say. Five days before, you could have supper at 6:10 pm, the fourth day before the time change you could have supper at 6:20 and so on until you reach 7:00 pm, which will be 6:00 pm on the day of the time change.

David Coulombe: Is there a group of individuals who are more at risk?

Dr. Roger Godbout: There are a few groups. People who are early birds might suffer a bit more with time change because when they wake up at their usual time of let’s say 5:00 am, their alarm clock will say 6:00 am - standard time. But with the change of time, their brain will still be set at 5:00 am and they may still wake up at their usual time, rather than the new time. Older people can also be more resistant to time change, as well as infants who are used to being fed regularly on a three or four hour basis. One hour is a lot for them.

David Coulombe: Is there a difference in terms of impact on our sleep between the two periods of the year when we have to change the time?

Dr. Roger Godbout: Yes, in the fall, as we just explained. We tend to think that we are about to gain an hour and in the spring, when we advance the time, or spring forward, we actually lose an hour and that might affect a few people. In the fall, the problem is that some people might feel depressed a little bit more because of the lack of light during the end of the day. It can affect their mood. In the spring time, it’s the lack of sleep that might affect some people.

David Coulombe: Last question for you. Do you have any solutions or recommendations? What do you propose?

Dr. Roger Godbout: Besides setting our internal clocks in advance, I would suggest that you eat properly and cut down on alcohol and coffee in the evening, because these can affect the brain and our internal clock. Reducing alcohol and coffee consumption in the evening will let the body’s internal clock adjust by itself more easily and it might actually shorten the period of adaptation for some people from for seven days to two.

David Coulombe: Dr. Godbout, thank you very much.

Dr. Roger Godbout: It was a pleasure.

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