Navigating Transitions: Occupational Therapy Tips for Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time

young girl holding an alarm clock and tilting her head

The transition to Daylight Saving Time (DST) in early March brings longer days and shorter nights, signaling the start of spring. While many welcome the extra hour of daylight in the evening, the time change can disrupt our internal clocks, affecting sleep patterns, routines, and overall well-being. For individuals with sensory processing issues, autism, or other conditions that benefit from occupational therapy (OT), this disruption can be particularly challenging. Here are some strategies and tips from occupational therapy to help ease the transition and maintain a sense of stability and comfort.

Understanding the Impact of DST

The shift to DST can affect our circadian rhythms, the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning. For children and adults receiving occupational therapy, who may already face challenges with transitions, the additional disruption can impact their daily functioning and therapeutic progress.

Occupational Therapy Strategies for DST Transition

1. Gradual Adjustment

  • Start preparing for the time change a week in advance by gradually shifting sleep and wake times. Adjust bedtime and wake-up time by 10-15 minutes each day leading up to the change. This gradual shift can help ease the body into the new schedule.

2. Consistent Routines

  • Maintain consistent daily routines as much as possible. Regular times for meals, activities, and bedtime help anchor the day and provide a sense of predictability, which can be calming for those with sensory sensitivities.

3. Sleep Hygiene

  • Promote good sleep hygiene by creating a conducive sleep environment. This can include dimming lights in the evening, reducing screen time before bed, and ensuring the bedroom is quiet, cool, and comfortable. Incorporating calming activities, such as reading or listening to soothing music, can also prepare the body and mind for sleep.

4. Light Exposure

  • Increase exposure to natural light in the morning to help reset the internal clock. Open curtains upon waking or take a short walk outside. In the evening, reduce exposure to bright lights to signal to the body that it’s time to wind down.

5. Sensory Tools and Techniques

  • Utilize sensory tools and techniques to support relaxation and sleep. Weighted blankets, for example, can provide comforting deep pressure, while white noise machines can create a soothing background sound. Sensory activities that are calming, such as deep breathing exercises or the use of sensory bins, can also be helpful.

6. Communication and Support

  • For children, explain the time change in a way that is understandable, focusing on the positives, such as more daylight to play outside. For adults, discussing concerns and strategies with an occupational therapist can provide additional support and personalized recommendations.

Conclusion

Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time can be a challenge, but with thoughtful preparation and the use of occupational therapy strategies, the transition can be smoother. By understanding the impact of the time change and implementing gradual adjustments, consistent routines, and supportive sensory environments, individuals and families can navigate this transition with greater ease and comfort. Remember, occupational therapists are valuable resources for tailored advice and strategies to support well-being through transitions like DST.

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