Daylight Saving Time – Health Risks of Losing an Hour of Precious Sleep

Lake Oconee Health, Daylight Savings Time, Sleeping Tips

Facts are that that losing just one hour of sleep affects your mental and physical health.  And as our nation works to improve health, the sleep messages are right: we all need to take action everyday to ensure we get the quality sleep needed every night, including the number of hours. 

But now it’s here – what some call our nationally scheduled “sleep disruption” or, as most know it, Daylight Saving Time (DST). And its perceived benefits and joys aside, generally it is that time when each of us are essentially pulled from sleep an hour earlier because clocks “spring forward.” 

Interestingly, as we change our sleep-wake schedules by even one hour, many people are under the mistaken notion that they can fool these rhythms into thinking the day has already started. In fact, the body is going to feel that loss as a temporary period of sleep deprivation.

Overall, the shift of DST is raising more eyebrows as health concerns mount. Today, more health professionals along with related associations are speaking out about the impact. In fact, there are compelling debates about the pros and cons of DST taking place throughout our nation with considerations of doing away with it. Or, changing it so it stays all year round. In other words, stopping with the back-and-forth of time change.

These discussions are driving more people to wonder, “It’s only an hour, what’s the big deal?” Facts are that health issues extend further than that unsettling feeling of grogginess many experience from the DST shift, there are real health consequences – increased motor vehicle and job accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. 

And while doing away with it may never happen (most people recently surveyed think DST is worth all the hassle), there are measures you can take to ensure the shift is a healthy one for you and your loved ones.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Daylight Saving Time and Your Health 

Sunday, March 10th at 2 a.m. marks the time shift to “spring forward.”  With this we move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening and sunrise and sunset occur one hour later.  

The Science of What’s Happening in Your Body. Your body has an internal clock that dictates your sleep/wake cycles and is controlled by melatonin, a sleep hormone. 

Melatonin production occurs in the pineal gland, a 1 cm structure in our brain and, it is based upon whether it is light or dark outside–a very clever system, indeed. 

During the darkness of the night, we want to be asleep, and that is when melatonin levels are at their highest. On the other hand, during the day when there is sunlight, we want to be awake, and that is when levels are at their lowest. So, when the retinas in our eyes sense light, either sunlight or artificial lights, they send signals to the pineal gland to stop the production of melatonin. 

How does Daylight Saving Time coincide with our body’s circadian rhythm? 

It doesn’t—the time change is man-made. Our internal clocks need time to recalibrate to the one-hour shift in the sleep cycle. And, consequently, millions of American adults and children can struggle to adjust for several days after or even a couple of weeks. 

What are some signs you may see from the sleep disturbances caused by the time change?    

  • An inability to concentrate, poor classroom or workplace performance, and mistakes
  • Grouchiness and irritability
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite and poor decision-making with what we put in our mouths. Sleep deprivation causes the hunger hormone ghrelin to surge and makes us ravenous. As a result, we may consume several hundred additional calories. 
  • Decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to germs. Our immune system recharges, rejuvenates, and reboots while we are asleep. And, if we do not get enough sleep, then it cannot fortify and build up its defenses to fight off those icky germs.   

Other Health Risks Increase: Overall, research has shown that as we spring forward:

  • There is a marked increase in motor vehicle collisions and an overall increase in motor vehicle deaths in the days following
  • The overall rate of ischemic stroke is higher than usual, with the risk being highest in the morning hours. In those over the age of 65 years, the risk was even greater and patients battling cancer were more likely to have a stroke.
  • Interestingly, there is almost a 25% leap in the number of heart attacks compared to other Mondays throughout the year

Your Sleep is Vital: It’s a big deal so make plans to ease the transition – and each night — to ensure you are getting enough sleep? 

  • Get the quality sleep you need: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults routinely get 7 or more hours per night to promote optimal health. However, sleeping for more than 9 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with health risks. Children require more sleep: 3-5 year old’s need 10-13 hours; 6-12 year old’s need 9-12 hours; and teens 8-10 hours.

When sleep deprived, it creates a “sleep debt.” Good news, like all debt, with some work, it can be repaid. But it won’t happen in one extended snooze binge. Tacking on an extra hour or two of sleep a night is the way to catch up.

  • Tips to improve your sleep quantity and quality: (It bears repeating!) Sleep hygiene describes the routines and rituals that you undergo before bedtime. Maintaining good hygiene works to help calm and get you in the mood to fall asleep and stay asleep. 
  • Make sleep a priority. You need quality, restful sleep – plan on it, every day
  • Decompress and power down. Engaging in relaxing activities in the hour before it’s time to hit the sack can help us doze off. Think of falling asleep as a continuum, not an abrupt transition. Before bedtime, quiet things down; play relaxing music, read, meditate, or take a warm bath.  Dim the lights at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and longer if needed.
  • Avoid stressful psychological and physical activities—steer away from work, heavy exercise, rehashing things from your day, or arguing–a few hours before your desired sleep time. Stress causes your body to produce hormones that send you into a “fight or flight” mode–the opposite direction of sleep and slumber. 
  • Avoid stimulants. Coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate contain caffeine that stimulates our brain and can increase our heart rate. It takes our body approximately 5-7 hours to clear half of the caffeine that is consumed, and 8-10 hours to clear seventy-five percent. If you are struggling with your sleep, consider discontinuing these items in the early afternoon, depending on your target bedtime. And, too, nicotine—contained in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, is also a stimulant.
  • Think comfort for sleeping. The comfort of your bedroom (and you at bedtime) is not just a luxury, it is critically important to the quality of your sleep. Research shows that the conditions of your bedroom – sights, sounds, feelings, textures, temperature and even smells – as well as your comfort, all can have a direct impact on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested, fresh and energized. 
  • And yes, make plans to stay on schedule or adjust to change. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends—is crucial for setting your body’s internal clock (your circadian rhythm). 

Fortunately, most of us will adjust to our DST change within a few days. However, it is estimated that one in three American adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. And, there can be significant consequences of chronic insomnia on our physical and mental health including an increase in Alzheimer’s dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes, lack of productivity, obesity and obesity related illnesses. 

Sleep is an essential component to your overall well-being and you must have adequate sleep to gain all the health benefits, it offers. If you have challenges with the time change and sleeping – talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.


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