While some people celebrate daylight saving time (DST) and the extra hours of sunlight that follow, the time change and its known effects on sleep can be especially challenging for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“DST causes a small phase shift in our circadian rhythm,” also known as the body’s internal clock, says Timothy B. Sullivan, MD, the chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. “This affects all of us, but some people are more impacted than others, including people with ADHD,” he says.
What’s more, many adults and children with ADHD regularly deal with sleep disturbances year-round, according to a study published in June 2016 in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. And DST can make this worse.
The good news? There are several strategies people with ADHD can try to help offset the effect of DST on their symptoms and routines. It may be a trial-and-error process to find what works best. But if DST causes severe sleep issues for you, or if your sleep schedule hasn’t returned to normal within a few days, reach out to your doctor for help, Dr. Sullivan advises.
1. Give Yourself Time to Adjust
Waking up on Sunday morning to the loss of an hour can feel sudden, especially for people with ADHD. One way to prepare for the time change in advance is to go to bed slightly earlier each night leading up to Sunday.
“I would recommend slowly shifting bed routines forward by 15 minutes over four days,” says Bethany Cook, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. “By the time the official ‘one-hour spring forward’ happens, you’re back in your typical time routine.”
For instance, if you typically go to bed at 9 p.m., here’s what your new bedtime schedule could look like:
- Wednesday Go to bed at 8:45 p.m., 15 minutes earlier than usual
- Thursday Go to bed at 8:30 p.m., 15 minutes earlier than on Wednesday
- Friday Go to bed at 8:15 p.m., 15 minutes earlier than on Thursday
- Saturday Go to bed at 8 p.m., which will be the equivalent of 9 p.m. once DST happens on Sunday
2. Set a Medication Plan With Your Doctor
If you have ADHD, you may take medications to manage your symptoms. Ahead of DST, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor about what time you should take this medication to help with the time adjustment.
“If you take medications for ADHD, talk to your physician about adjusting the dose timing to help with the time change,” says Rashmi Parmar, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health in Newark, California.
3. Make a Schedule for Yourself — and Set Reminders
DST has a way of throwing off everyone’s schedule — and for people with ADHD, this can be especially frustrating.
On ordinary days, many people with ADHD have difficulty with time management and keeping track of tasks they need to get done, according to Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). When DST rolls around, the loss of an hour can throw an additional monkey wrench into your routine.
“Maintaining a structured routine is going to be the key in adjusting to time changes,” says Dr. Parmar.
“For some who experience a temporary decline in their ADHD symptoms because of the time change, keeping a diary handy or downloading an organizing app on your phone may be helpful to keep track of tasks,” she suggests.
Some other ways to stay on track:
- Leave sticky notes on your fridge or desk.
- Ask family and friends to remind you of important tasks.
- Set work-related reminders for yourself on Slack or through your email calendar.
If you do miss a meeting or forget about a task you needed to get done, give yourself grace. “Anticipate that things will backslide a bit because of the time disruption, and allow yourself ample time to adjust to this change,” Parmar says.
4. Spend Some Time Outdoors
Lace up your sneakers! Time in nature prior to DST can help everyone adjust before the clocks shift forward — and people with ADHD are no exception. “This helps your body sync its circadian rhythms with the shifting sunlight and also boosts the body's natural melatonin production to help with evening sleep,” Dr. Cook says.
A study published in December 2021 in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that exposure to outdoor light reduced depression risk, helped participants feel happier, made it less difficult to wake up in the morning, and decreased tiredness, among other benefits. Researchers found that each additional hour spent outside during daytime strengthened these benefits.
5. Tell Your Loved Ones if You’re Struggling
If you find that DST upends your routine in the days or weeks that follow, it can be helpful to let your family, friends, or coworkers know. “Give people a heads-up if you know you tend to derail the week following the shift,” Cook advises.
People who don’t face particular challenges related to DST may not be aware that others do, so communicate with those around you that you’re struggling, and they'll better understand your situation and support you as needed.