Time change ahead of you? Overcoming the dread of it

You just started feeling that things are getting more or less stable with your sleep. Or maybe you are currently in a turbulent place, with fear and frustration, unable to sleep. And here comes the daylight saving time change. What does it mean for your sleep? How will it affect your insomnia recovery? Can things get worse? Will this bring a new speedbump and will you ever recover from it?

I had those worries back in the days when I was suffering from insomnia. For many people, the time change is a casual thing, but for insomniacs, that tiny change brings a lot of uncertainly. In this post I will talk about 4 insights that will help you deal with this.

1. It’s not an insomnia thing

When we shift time, even for one hour, our brains get confused. And it is true for everyone. Even the “best” sleepers will feel its effect: being more tired during the day or less tired during their bedtime, having difficulty falling asleep or getting up. It is so normal to struggle with sleep and fatigue when there is a change and it is not insomnia (= fear of not sleeping) that’s causing it.

It can take days for our bodies to adjust to it and there is nothing special we need to do about it. If you have a set sleep window, you can just keep sticking to it, and if you don’t have it – the daily life will take care of it 🙂 We all need to go to work, to school, have some deadlines, and gradually our body will catch up with the new rhythm.

So the biological part of it is more or less clear, but what to do with the emotions that accompany that change?

2. Understand where your emotions come from

Human brains are sensitive to change: anything new, abnormal, or unknown automatically catches our attention. That’s how brains work.

During insomnia, the brain is particularly sensitive to a change and perceives it as a potential threat. Daylight saving time might be an insignificant change objectively, but for the brain, it might seem like a big deal.

So when you feel worried even from the thought of the upcoming change, just know that that’s how the brain is trying to keep you safe. It detects a possible danger (the perceived one) and tries to warn you about it by turning on the fight or flight mode temporarily. That reaction is automatic and we don’t get to choose it consciously. I know it’s tempting to be hard on yourself for worrying too much, but it is really not your fault!

Staying in touch with our emotions and not trying to suppress or get rid of them is a faster way for them to stop on their own – because they do stop eventually. They are programmed to leave once their “warning” job is done. And you can help this by being receptive to them, showing the brain that you listen and accept, and reminding yourself that you are still safe.

3. “How to prevent this?” is a wrong question

I know that before this change happens we unintentionally want to protect ourselves. That’s what our triggered brain is trying to make us do, and that’s fine. But if we act on it, we only reinforce the fear.

As common and understandable as it is, the question of prevention is not helpful, because the honest response would be: no, you can’t prevent this. Here are three reasons:

  1. If you live in a country with the daylight saving time, the change is inevitable – we have to go through it twice a year and every person would feel that change to some extent on a biological level.
  2. We can’t control sleep. No one can. Which makes prevention a not realistic goal.
  3. We can’t control emotions and if the brain get triggered, we will feel that for some time. That’s natural.

That said, things aren’t as bad as they sound 🙂 The truth is no matter how scary this is, you can get through this!

You probably felt the same way before the previous time change, so how did that end up? I bet that things stabilized since then, and the fact that now you feel worried about the upcoming change proves that the brain got adjusted after the last time shift. Just because it is new, the brain decided to keep an eye on it. But the moment the new becomes old, the unknown – known, things will get better.

And while there is nothing we can do to guarantee that our sleep won’t get disturbed during the change, we aren’t completely powerless 😉

I think we need to ask ourselves a different question.

4. “How will I respond to this?”

We discussed that prevention is not realistic, so the trouble sleeping doesn’t have to happen, but let’s be honest: it may. The way we react to this is key.

If you ask me what the best reaction is, I would say: none. Not reacting teaches the brain that everything is normal and it quickly calms down. But I know, that’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes impossible!

Our reactions, or responses, are not as simple as we’d think, because there are automatic responses and controlled responses. But that’s okay!

The automatic response is emotions (fear, worry, sadness, frustration, anger), physical sensations (heart palpitations, sweating, twitches, burning feeling), thoughts (“what if I never get through this?”)

As I said earlier, we don’t choose them on purpose and we can’t stop them in the moment, they happen because subconsciously the brain felt that sleep is in danger.

But our controlled response is all that matters and it is enough. So what do we actually control here?

Behavior, awareness & acceptance, self-kindness.

Powerful trio

Behavior is more or less clear: we can choose our actions. When we fear something, we can act with courage in spite of the fear. For example, the brain tells us to drink some soothing tea to improve our chances to sleep, and we can choose not to. Or if we avoid coffee with the sleep intent, we decide to drink it anyway. Or getting up at night when we feel frustrated. This is a straightforward reaction, but I believe that alone it might not be enough.

Awareness and acceptance get to the source of the fear. And by awareness, I am not talking about being aware of your breath or of things that surround you. These are just techniques and are cosmetic. To me, awareness is about understanding what is happening to you and why. When you are aware, it gets easier to accept things. And when we accept, we stop resisting, we feel more at peace. And when that happens, there is nothing that stands in the way of sleep! Education around sleep and emotions is a great base for awareness.

Self-kindness is always got your back when things get too hard. Sometimes courage is not an option when we feel really scared and desperate. In such cases, taking care of yourself is the first aid to make yourself feel better. Anything that would make you feel less pressured. Even if it is “traditionally” perceived as a sleep effort. Usually, people write that they couldn’t resist and took some sleep aid and then blame themselves for that “weakness”. But to me this sounds like an act of self-care and kindness – possibly that was the best thing they could do in those tough moments. Blaming for that gets us nowhere, but forgiving ourselves will carry us smoothly throughout the tough times. And those tough times will always end 🙂

So thinking about the upcoming change, what path would you choose? (hint below ;))

Mystery → Fear → Resistance → Pressure → Efforts → No sleep

Education → Awareness → Acceptance → Kindness → Peace → Sleep