Getting back on track after Daylight Savings Time
If you live anywhere except Hawaii or Arizona, chances are that Daylight Saving Time is wreaking havoc on your internal clock. We just moved the clocks ahead one hour, costing you an hour of sleep and shifting an hour of sunlight from morning to evening. It’s all fun and games in the fall when we all gain an hour of sleep, but adjusting in the spring can be much tougher. In addition to losing that precious hour of sleep, the shift can seriously derail your mood, appetite, and motor skills.
In fact, there are quite a few ways that “springing forward” can impact your health and well-being. We’ll take a look at some of the most common changes and what you can do to address them—or at least mitigate the effects.
Daylight savings time may cause issues with your regular diet and appetite. Sleep deprivation, even at the lowest levels, can impact hormone levels. One hormone in particular—ghrelin—can be increasingly released as a result of sleep deficiency. This can boost cravings and make us hungrier. Sleep deficiency also decreases the release of the leptin hormone, which provides the feeling of satisfaction as we eat.
In addition to the potential of overeating due to these changes, the body also reacts to sleep disturbances by increasing insulin resistance. That means the additional consumption of calories is more likely to be stored as fat.
Heart health risks
While gaining a few pounds is an unappealing potential side effect of daylight savings time, there are more grave risks at hand, too. One study found that the overall rate of ischemic stroke (a common type of stroke, where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain) increased by 8 percent in the first two days after the transition. For those who are older than 65 or are cancer patients, the risk is even higher, with an increased risk of 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
Another study found that the first 3 weekdays after switching to daylight savings time comes with an increased risk of heart attack. While both studies appear to demonstrate an associate between heart health risks rather than causation, it is widely believed by experts that sleep disturbance is a key factor. Our circadian rhythm dictates many different functions related to physiologic, mental, metabolic, and behavioral status. Any disruption to circadian rhythm can affect negative outcomes in certain cases.
Lack of sleep can significantly impact mood as well. Disrupted sleep cycles can frustrate people who have trouble adapting to the time change. Many end up restlessly fidgeting at night, not getting the recommended amount of sleep, and feeling tired the next day. Most people lose about 40 minutes of sleep when the clocks are set ahead, so no one is immune to the havoc that lost time can wreak. Not surprisingly, increased irritability is a common mood disruption that people experience during this time of year.
Scientifically, you can blame the amygdala. This emotional center of the brain tends to be more reactive to things like disturbing images when a person is sleep deprived. Additionally, your memory, performance, and ability to concentrate can all be negatively impacted by disruptions to sleep.
Accidents happen...but they are especially common around the daylight savings time shift. In fact, there tends to be a spike in car crashes following daylight savings time changes. Again, you can thank sleep deprivation for this phenomenon. Even a tiny reduction in sleep can bring about grave consequences, including the 30 additional people that died from daylight savings-related crashes that occurred between 2002 and 2011.
Work-related injuries also spike around the daylight saving time transition, again bolstered by sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can impair motor skills. One study looked at mining injuries over a 23 year period and highlighted a 5.7 percent increase in injuries on the Monday after the time change. In addition to an increased number of injuries, they tend to be more severe, too.
How to combat DST-related risks
This may seem like bad news all around; however, there are certain things you can do to prepare and combat health risks associated with daylight saving time.
Prepare for the change: next year, consider easing into the change by setting an earlier bedtime for yourself in the days leading up to the time change. By going to bed and waking up incrementally earlier each night and day, you can train your body to adjust over time. This can save your body (and mind) the jolt of adjusting to the loss of an entire hour all at once.
Get your light in: Light is an important signal to our bodies’ internal clocks, letting it know that it’s time to wake up for the day. Try to expose yourself to some healthy sunlight first thing by heading outside for a short walk or sitting in front of a window for breakfast.
Cut down on caffeine: Even avid coffee drinkers can benefit from a bit of a cut-back leading up to the time change. Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon can promote a natural sleep schedule and keep you from suffering through restless nights. It doesn’t have to be forever, but reducing caffeine intake a few days before and after the change can go a long way in helping your body adjust.
Resist the urge to nap: We know! That’s a real bummer piece of advice, but you’ll thank us later. Napping cuts into your ability to naturally fall asleep at night, so try to avoid it where possible.
See your primary care doctor: Your doctor may be able to suggest other tactics to minimize impacts to your health from Daylight Savings Time adjustments.
No matter how much you dread daylight saving time, you cannot avoid it. You can make the transition a little bit easier by taking the tips above and putting them into action. Preparing for the change can help you reduce the sleep disturbances you experience and can keep you on track to be your best—and healthiest—self.