If you’re feeling tired and groggy this Monday morning, you’re not alone. Daylight Saving Time (DST) starts on Sunday at 2 am, effectively moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening by “springing forward” our clocks to 3 am. While many enjoy the increased daylight at the end of the day, a survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 55 percent of Americans feel tired when the switch takes place. It takes time to adjust to losing a precious hour of sleep, and it’s not uncommon to feel a little foggy, tired or irritable as our bodies reset their natural sleeping and waking patterns. Of even greater concern, a number of studies show an increase in heart attacks, strokes, and atrial fibrillation in the days after DST goes into effect. A study published last month in Current Biology, says that the risk of fatal motor vehicle accidents goes up by six percent due to sleep deprivation and less AM daylight.
Light and dark are key elements in the body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. When it’s dark, the body produces melatonin, a hormone that tells the body it’s time for sleep. The reduced AM daylight during DST wreaks havoc with the waking up process, causing a “misalignment of our biologic clocks,” says Beth Ann Malow, MD, a professor of Sleep Disorders at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Most health experts favor a permanent switch to standard time because it’s more closely aligned with the natural rising and setting of the sun, an important signal our bodies use in the sleep/wake cycle. The switch to DST short circuits the kick-start natural light provides to every cell in our bodies, influencing everything from hormone levels to blood pressure.
Both experts and the general public agree that switching back and forth twice a year between standard time and DST isn’t desirable or healthy. But while the experts overwhelmingly favor sticking with standard time, public opinion is mixed. According to an AP/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, over 70 percent favor ending the practice of changing clocks, with about 40 percent preferring year-round standard time, and 31 percent expressing a preference for year-round DST.
Help your body adjust to DST
How fast you adapt to DST varies depending on a number of factors, including how flexible your body is in resetting its internal body clock, and whether you already have trouble sleeping. A simple rule of thumb is that it takes about one day to adjust for each hour of time change, but some people can take up to two weeks to adjust. The change can be especially difficult for children with autism, who are sometimes impacted for weeks or months, says Dr. Malow, who specializes in autism and sleep.
A common suggestion is to shift bedtime earlier by 15 to 20 minutes in the two or three nights before DST goes into effect. While there’s not much time left to do this now, you can also try this for the two or three nights following the start of DST.
While light is a major player in setting your internal body clock, adjusting your behavior and environment can help with the switch to DST. A common suggestion is to shift bedtime earlier by 15 to 20 minutes in the two or three nights before DST goes into effect. While there’s not much time left to do this now, you can also try this for the two or three nights following the start of DST. And try these strategies for better sleeping and waking:
- Practice good sleep hygiene – the term used to describe habits which encourage falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping soundly.
- Be consistent with your sleep schedule. Even on weekends, try not to vary the time you go to sleep and when you rise by more than an hour or so.
- Make your bedroom a calm, relaxing oasis. The room should be dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature.
- Engage in relaxing rituals such as taking a hot bath, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. The bright light emitted by your smart phone, tablet or computer can trick the brain into thinking it’s morning and stop producing melatonin, so turn them off before bedtime.
- Avoid heavy meals within a few hours of bedtime. Indigestion often strikes when you lie down, and that’s a sure fire way to loose sleep.
- Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol are known sleep disrupters, so avoid them in the hours leading up to bedtime. Even though alcohol can make you drowsy, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
- Get plenty of light during your waking hours and dial it back in the evening hours. Natural sunlight is best, but if that’s not possible, aim for a comfortable level of bright light in the morning. Serotonin, the brain chemical associated with better mood, increases with sunlight exposure, so soak up the sun as much as is safe for you. Remember to wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen to block the harmful effects of too much sun.
Making a permanent change
DST was signed into federal law with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. One of the original arguments in its favor was that it would save energy. In fact you may have read that Benjamin Franklin mentioned the idea as a way to save on the cost of candles. Studies offer conflicting conclusions about whether the demand for electricity increases or decreases as a result of changing the clocks.
In the last three years nine states have officially called for staying on DST year-round, though the change can’t be made without the U.S. Congress taking action. But others, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas want to make a permanent switch back to standard time. Right now, Arizona and Hawaii are the only states not observing DST. About seventy countries change their clocks between standard and DST, but efforts to go to a year-round system have been getting traction in Europe. China, Japan, India and most countries near the equator don’t make the change.
Pay attention to the science
Given the strong reaction against DST from the health community, those favoring it may be better served to consider the science instead of their wish to have more time for outdoor recreation. “Daylight-saving time means that we virtually live in another time zone without changing the day-light cycle. The problem is the misalignment. The circadian clock is trying to optimize our physiology. Now suddenly we have to do things which are not at the biologically appropriate time,” says Dr. Till Roenneberg, president of the World Federation of Societies for Chronobiology.