How Daylight Saving Can Affect Your Health
Even though the time shifts by only an hour during daylight saving time, the effects on the body can be noticeable! Each year like clockwork, our patients become curious about the impact of the time change on their health as well as the way it might disrupt their sleep schedule.
Daylight saving time is the annual practice of changing our clocks in the spring in order to make better use of the daylight. Heading into the summer, we “spring forward” in order to shift an hour of daylight to the evening hours. When the temperatures begin to drop, we “fall back” to standard time in order to add daylight in the AM. Below, we’re tackling the five most common questions related to daylight saving and the time change in order to help you adjust more easily.
How does losing or gaining an hour of sleep affect my internal clock?
Losing or gaining an hour of sleep can confuse your internal clock. Our bodies tell us when to go to sleep and when to wake up every day through an internal clock. This is extremely important for getting the rest we need, keeping our energy levels optimal, and being as functional as we can be in our everyday lives. So when daylight saving time comes along, that internal clock keeps working the same way while our lives are essentially undergoing a forced adjustment. This requires an adjustment from that internal clock which isn’t always instantaneous.
When the time is shifting forward in the spring, try to get to bed a little earlier than usual and avoid staying up late. Following the daylight saving change, keep your regular schedule the same including mealtimes, physical activities and wake-up time. This will help your body begin to use these cues to adjust your internal clock to the time change.
During daylight saving, how will the later sunrises affect my sleep?
Daylight is actually the most important cue for setting our internal clock at the beginning of the day. Getting about 15-30 minutes of sunlight exposure in the early morning can help us sync our clock to the time change faster. Also, if you’re having trouble adapting to the time change, try to limit sunlight exposure in the evening hours by wearing dark shades.
Can the time change affect my brain function?
You could possibly experience symptoms similar to jet lag following the time change. Some people are sensitive to even small shifts in their schedule and they may experience mental fogginess, decreased attention span and even some mild mood disturbances such as irritability. Keep in mind that those of us with baseline sleeping issues may be particularly affected by these changes.
Are there any safety concerns associated with daylight saving time?
Studies have shown that daylight saving time corresponds to an increase in myocardial infarction, or heart attacks. Disrupted sleep can make patients more vulnerable to heart and stroke. If you feel you may be at a higher risk for these issues it is important to be mindful of the amount of sleep you are getting each night, and to factor in the time change in order to get the necessary amount of rest.
Similarly, drivers should be especially vigilant during the immediate daylight saving period. A joint study conducted by Johns Hopkins and Stanford University found a small increase in car crash deaths on the Monday after a switch to daylight saving time. Driving while sleep-deprived or sleepy can be dangerous, so make the extra effort during the week following daylight saving to minimize distractions in your vehicle and pay extra attention to the other drivers around you.
What are some ways I can adjust to the time change?
For most of us, after a small time shift our bodies will naturally adjust our internal clocks by 15 or 30 minutes per day. This means that we’ll be back on track in just a few days. But to help this process along, continue your usual daytime routines including wake-up times, mealtimes, and exercise and you will be fine.
Another way to sync your body to the new time a little bit faster is to log some time exercising in the morning. This will expose your body to light as well as increase your internal core temperature which will help wake your body up. And if possible, avoid taking naps immediately after the time shift so that you are tired and ready to sleep when bedtime comes around.
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