Spring-forward, fall-back. We all know the saying. But did you know that this hour difference affects more than your schedule? It impacts your health, too.
As we inch closer to March 13—Daylight Savings Time (DST)—most of us in the United States are getting ready to turn our clocks ahead an hour. What we may not realize, however, is that there are ways we can prepare our bodies and mind for this transition, which may help reduce any negative side-effects.
In this article, we’ll discuss why DST affects our bodies, and how we can adjust to the new time change, without it impacting our mood, sleeping patterns, and energy levels.
Common Effects of Daylight Savings Time
Most of us have a regular bedtime. In fact, even if we wanted to stay up later, or go to bed earlier, our bodies often have the final say on when we’ll fall asleep.
Though this has much to do with routine, it has more to do with light exposure.
The Sleep Foundation refers to this as our “sleep-wake cycle.” It’s a circadian rhythm that helps regulate our sleep and key bodily functions. When successful, this rhythm helps us awake feeling refreshed and ready to take on each day:
“These rhythms are largely dependent on light exposure. In order to reset each day, they must be synchronized with natural light-darkness cycles in order to ensure healthy, high-quality sleep.”Sleep Foundation
When we transition from Standard Time to DST, we experience darker mornings and lighter evenings. According to the Sleep Foundation, this causes a delay (or misalignment) in the cycle.
Waking up when it’s still dark out makes your body think it’s still nighttime. The same applies when you’re trying to fall asleep when it’s still light out. Your body thinks it’s not time for bed yet. The end result is less time asleep and more time tossing and turning in bed.
Typically, the Monday morning after DST is usually the toughest to get through, as the average person may lose about 40 minutes of sleep time. But many people can still experience sleep delays several weeks later.
“While many people adapt to time changes, some studies have suggested the human body never fully acclimates to DST. Rather, their circadian misalignment may become a chronic or permanent condition…lead[ing] to more serious health problems.”Sleep Foundation
Daylight Savings Tips
Ready for some good news? There are many ways you can be proactive in curving the effects of DST on your body and wellness.
Since we have a few days before we spring forward, let’s review some recommendations for helping you adjust to the hour difference.
Start Practicing Early
The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people prepare for the time change by practicing a few days early. This might include going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier than your regular bedtime.
Avoid Caffeine or Alcohol
The Almanac recommends skipping any caffeinated drinks or alcoholic beverages at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. In addition, they recommend that an hour before bed, avoid looking at your computer, television, or tablet, as the high-intensity light can deregulate melatonin production, and instead, stimulate your brain to want to stay awake.
Exercise in the Morning
We recently published an article on in-door walking and the health benefits of staying active while at home. If exercise is becoming a normal part of your schedule, the Almanac recommends performing your fitness routine in the morning, as this may help you avoid raising your body’s core temperature at night, which makes falling asleep more difficult.
Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule
It’s also recommended that you try to stick with a consistent sleep schedule. That means, if you’re trying to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, try to avoid taking long naps during the day, or sleeping in on weekends, as this could interfere with your sleep-wake cycle.
Ask Your Doctor About Adjusting Medication Time Change
When we think of DST, most of us focus on losing an hour, but the reality is, many people are used to taking certain medications at specific times of the day. That means come March 13th, you may wonder if you’ll need to take your medicine on the new (or old) time.
It’s best to contact your healthcare team before the hour change to find out if you need to adjust your medication time. This would be a great opportunity to ask your provider for more tips on adjusting to the time difference, as well.
Enjoy Some Sunshine
If we had to look at the pros of DST, it might be that we have longer days to look forward to on the horizon. Take advantage of the natural sunlight by spending time outdoors:
“Since natural light is a driving force behind our circadian rhythms, exposure to sunlight can alleviate feelings of tiredness during the day that often accompany time changes.”Sleep Foundation
A Final Note
It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that many health professionals are actually pushing to end the practice of DST in the United States. As you probably can guess from this article, DST’s effects on our health is a serious matter, especially as we age, and far outweigh the reasons why we observe this hour difference in the first place.
In fact, states like Hawaii and certain parts of Arizona don’t even observe the time difference. It may be safe to assume that other states will follow.
Who knows. Maybe in the next ten years, this article will just be a historic artifact. But until that day, it’s important that you prepare yourself for the time difference and ask for help if you’re feeling overly tired or stressed, as a result. If you are feeling tired, remember to avoid driving or operating equipment that could be dangerous.
Your health and wellness is important! Make sure to take the necessary steps to ensure you enjoy a long, healthy and happy spring this year.