It’s that time of year again, when we reset our clocks and try to readjust to the time change associated with Daylight Saving Time (DST). Some of us breeze through the change seamlessly, yet others feel out of sorts for days. If you have trouble dealing with this sudden disruption in your routine, it is for good reason.
Even though your brain knows that the time on the clock has changed, your body's internal clock does not. In the fall, when you’ve gained an hour of sleep, you might not feel tired, but you may get cranky when you have to wait an extra hour before your lunch break or when it feels like work should have ended an hour ago. When the clocks move forward in the spring, you'll be robbed of an hour of sleep. That night, you may not be able to fall into your normal sleep rhythms an hour earlier than you’re used to, and you won’t get as much quality sleep as you need.
Since its inception in the early 1900s, DST has been the subject of controversy. Studies are contradictory, showing that DST has both positive and negative impacts on health, safety, energy consumption, and the economy. A sampling of the issues includes:
- Health: DST provides more daylight for outdoor exercise and yard work in the evenings, which could improve fitness levels. It also provides more opportunities for sun exposure, which triggers vitamin D synthesis in the skin. However, more sun exposure could lead to higher rates of skin cancer, according to some experts. And some new research shows that heart attacks increase the days following the spring time change (when we lose an hour), but decrease after the fall time change (when we gain an hour).
- Safety: In the weeks following the spring time change, there are more traffic accidents. But overall, during the course of DST there are fewer traffic fatalities than during standard time.
- Energy Consumption: While it had been hypothesized that DST would help to conserve energy, several studies have shown that DST leads to increased energy and fuel consumption.
- Economy: Some industries, like retail businesses and golf courses, benefit from DST, as consumers have more time to shop and play. But other industries including farming, theaters, and prime time television suffer.
- Start early. The time change is usually scheduled for the wee hours of Sunday morning, in order to reduce the disruption of the workweek. To give yourself more time to adjust before the workweek begins, reset one of your clocks at the start of the weekend, such as Friday night or Saturday morning. Try to eat meals, sleep, and wake according to that clock. When Monday comes, you’ll be on your way to feeling adjusted. However, if you have activities and events during the weekend, make sure you don’t get confused about the correct time!
- Exercise. Working out releases serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps our bodies adjust. Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors, and early in the day. A brisk morning walk is perfect. Avoid exercising too late in the evening though, as this could interfere with the quality of your sleep. Learn more about the connection between exercise and better sleep.
- Nap wisely. Try to resist the urge to take long naps late in the day. If you get tired, take a short, energizing walk around the block instead. If you must nap, keep it earlier in the day and limit your snooze time to no more than 20 minutes.
- Don’t imbibe. Alcohol interferes with normal sleep cycles, so don't rely on a nightcap to fall asleep. Find out about other foods and drinks that help (and hurt) your sleep.
- Digest. After the time changes, you may be hungry for meals earlier or later than before. Be sure to give yourself ample time to digest your dinner before heading off to bed. A heavy meal in your stomach will interfere with the quality of your sleep, too.
- Lighten up. The right combination of light and dark can help your body's circadian rhythm readjust so you can fall asleep on your new schedule and sleep more soundly. In the morning, open the shades and brighten the lights. Try to spend time outside during the day, if possible. Dim the lights in the evening, so that your body understands that it’s time to wind down.
By Liza Barnes, Health Educator