As the country prepares to “spring forward” an hour for daylight saving
time this Sunday, it’s important to keep in mind how even a tiny time
change can affect your health.
Studies have shown that the spring daylight saving time shift can impact a person’s wellbeing in several ways:
Sleep struggles: Interruption in regular sleep patterns is by far the biggest problem following a daylight saving time shift. Even a small change in your snooze schedule can knock your natural circadian rhythm out of whack. The resulting lack of sleep in the days following a clock change can lead to grogginess and loss of mental acuity. Sleepless nights can also eventually give you more laugh lines. “Sleep deprivation is a form of stress,” points out Matthew Mingrone, M.D., lead physician for EOS Sleep California Centers. “It causes your body to make more steroids which decreases the production collagen which causes thinning of the skin and wrinkles.”
Heart attack hazard: Heart attack rates spike by about five percent in the days after the March time change, according to a 2008 study published by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The same study showed that there is a subsequent drop in heart attack occurrences in the fall, when the clocks get turned back.
Worsening willpower: A 2012 study conducted by scientists from the Penn State Smeal College of Business and Singapore Management University showed that people are more likely to engage in “cyberloafing”—wasting time on the internet on the Monday after a daylight saving time change. This inability to focus is a likely result of getting less sleep. Productivity researchers estimate that the shift may cost businesses across the country millions of dollars in lost revenue due to decreases in productivity.
Car crash concerns: Daylight saving time also appears to impact automobile accident rates. The Monday morning immediately following the “spring forward” time change is riddled with as many as 17 percent more fatal car crashes than normal, according to Canadian researchers. Experts aren’t in agreement as to exactly why this occurs, though many speculate that the phenomenon stems from an increase in sleepy motorists and unsafe drivers running late for work.
Tips for adjusting to daylight saving time
Roth-Maguire and Mingrone offer a few simple steps to help you “spring forward” successfully:
Stick to a routine: Adhering to a regular sleep pattern (varying the time you go to bed and the time you wake up by no more than 20 minutes) helps keep your internal cycle on track, despite a slight time change, says Mingrone.
Stay away from sleep disrupters: Caffeine, alcohol, over-the-counter sleep medications and naps are all no-nos, especially during the days surrounding daylight saving time, according to Roth-Maguire.
Get some sun: Exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate your body’s natural rhythms. Depending on where you live, the weather may be too cold to spend too much time outside, but you can at least pull up the shade and sit in front of the window for a few minutes.
Work up a sweat: Engaging in some form of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, biking, swimming) in the late afternoon or early evening may help you fall asleep easier. If you don’t have the time or energy to spare, a hot bath can achieve the same result, according to Mingrone, who says that first raising your body temperature, and then gradually lowering it right before bed time encourages your body to produce the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Practice good sleep “hygiene”: Roth-Maguire says that anyone having trouble sleeping should ask themselves three questions about their sleep environment: Is it dark enough? Is it cool enough? Is it quiet enough?
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