The birds are chirping, the crocuses are sprouting and we have one extra hour of daylight upon us. Spring is within spitting distance (no germs, please) and in this pandemic year, we understand perhaps better than ever how precious our time is.
This extra hour of daylight may be more meaningful than ever before, particularly as we look to get outside and enjoy socially distanced fresh air more than ever. How, though, should we use this gift of an extra hour of daylight?
Unless you are a vampire, you are probably neutral, if not optimistic, about the 60 minutes of additional daylight bestowed upon us.
The extra daylight comes to us by way of the outmoded practice of Daylight Saving Time, when farmers needed more daylight to plant all the things. Come fall, they needed more morning sunlight to harvest (hence, the loss of an hour).
While this archaic practice may confuse our colleagues in say, Arizona, where they do not acknowledge such shifts in the time-space continuum, there is also fun to be had with more sunshine!
Particularly for those of us tethered to our desks for the better part of the day, that extra hour of daylight might mean a chance to actually be outside while the sun is still up.
“The reason we struggle during the time change is because our natural, internal clock was set and now the environment is operating on a different time,” said Alicia Roth, a clinical health psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.
“It’s important to use the sunlight hours during the time change to naturally reset your clock,” she said.
Bask in the sun’s glory
There’s a reason that children draw smiley faces on suns in their pictures. Suns are not only bright forces that evoke positivity – the color yellow in many cultures symbolizes happiness, optimism and enlightenment – the rays from the sun are literally good for us.
The sun’s best-known benefit is in boosting Vitamin D in your body, which can positively impact your ability to metabolize calcium and aid in bone health, as well as your neuromuscular and immune system.
“Being outdoors and exposed to natural sunlight has a huge impact on your sleep health,” Roth said.
Natural light stimulates melatonin, a chemical in our brains that helps to set our internal clocks, says Roth. The melatonin is suppressed when you’re in the sunlight, which helps to make you feel more alert. Conversely, when the sun goes down, your melatonin turns back on and you feel sleepy.
“Being outdoors can keep you alert and energetic because your melatonin is being suppressed,” she said.
Get out into nature
Take advantage of that extra hour to take a walk in nature, catch the sunset or practice some yoga or stretching outdoors. In addition to the obvious benefits of exercising and moving, communing with nature has proven health benefits.
There’s evidence that two hours – just 120 minutes a week – in nature can improve your health and well-being, according to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Not a bad reason to get out more and boost your heart and mind.
Taking the family or a friend with you can have the added benefit of safe socialization and quality time. Being immersed in nature is good for the kiddos too! Or, if you’re alone – or that’s your only time alone in the day – you can use that time as a meditation of sorts. Use the opportunity to cultivate mindfulness, listening to the sounds of nature around you and your own breathing, and practicing being in the moment.
Throw a ball with the dog, kick a soccer ball with the kid or find a body of water to walk around during that last hour of sunlight. Or save that morning jog or exercise routine for later in the day.
An after-dinner dusk walk is also a great way to digest and reset before you transition into your evening routine.
“Being active in the later afternoon in the sunlight can help you avoid going to bed too early, and thus avoid waking up too early in the morning. The extra sunlight hours can be used for additional recreation, etc. that will of course help with your mood!” said Roth.
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If you aren’t jazzed about the idea of closing your eyes and bathing in the warm glow of our solar system’s star, there are other reasons to embrace joy with the time change. At the very least, the clock in your car is finally correct again. At the very best, you can advantage the extra hour of daylight to do something that is good for your body and your soul.
Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.