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Every year, between March 8 and March 14, most states in the United States, change the time by pushing the clock ahead one hour from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM. This change, known as Daylight Savings Time, purports to make better use of daylight so that it is light longer into the evening rather than in the morning. While this might give your teen more sunlight for a baseball game or a late evening swim, the weeks just after the change to Daylight Savings Time can interrupt sleep, cause impaired driving, and trigger a decline in cognitive function making it a terrible time to take tests.

Sleep research for teens

Recent studies reported on by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine show that high school aged teens do not sleep well in the first few weeks following the time change in March. In the study, sleep loss correlated with less cognitive ability and vigilance (paying attention), increasing worry about their safety. This concern is particularly true of teen drivers.

Sleep on the weeknights after the time change measured at 7 hours, 19 minutes, a loss of more than 30 minutes compared to the weeks before the time change. On average, teens lost just shy of three hours' sleep throughout the next week. During the day, these students showed heightened sleepiness and a decline in reaction times with increased attention lapses.

How much do they need?

According to recommendations by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens need just over nine hours of sleep per night. This amount is particularly necessary on school nights. During sleep, teen's brains form memory connections and repair cells. It is also during sleep that critical the waking hormone cortisol rises. The cycle of nighttime cortisol that produces daytime melatonin drives the circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping. Less sleep means less cortisol (the "awakening" hormone) which in turn means less melatonin (the "go to sleep" hormone), creating a cycle of sleep deprivation.

Planning for DST

Treat the weeks leading up to the Daylight Savings Time change as if your teen is going on a trip and will experience jet lag. Use these tried and true methods of preparing to reduce the effect of the time change on your teen.

  1. Increase hydration. Dehydration makes sleep difficult, so urge your son or daughter to drink more water in the week or two preceding the switchover.
  2. Restrict blue light. Turn off televisions and adjust the brightness on computers and smartphones slightly earlier each night. Aim for a 6 to 10-minute change from day to day. For computers and smartphones, use a program such as f.lux to adjust the lighting for you.
  3. Adjust meal times by 10 minutes each day until they match the new time.
  4. Use the 6 – 10 minutes guidelines to wake your child earlier each day so that on the day of the time change there is no difference to the day before.

A little planning goes a long way toward preparing for the change to Daylight Savings Time. Get your teen’s friends’ families and neighbors to join you and sail smoothly into summer together.