Daylight Saving Time: How to Help Your Body Adjust to the Change

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Article at a Glance: 

  • Each year, many people across the globe participate in Daylight Saving Time to help preserve natural daylight. 
  • This bi-annual observance includes “springing forward” in March and “falling back” in November. 
  • Humans are most vulnerable to sleep deprivation in early March when they transition from Standard Time to DST. 
  • While people do get the benefit of longer days of sunlight during DST, there are growing concerns around the potential health risks associated with circadian  misalignment. Subsequently, more researchers and doctors are advocating to get rid of DST altogether.
  • There are simple, proactive steps that you can take to help mitigate the effects of springing forward and keep your circadian rhythm in sync.
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“Spring forward, fall back. If you have heard this mnemonic saying, then chances are that you live in a part of the world that observes Daylight Saving Time (DST). This annual ritual has become heavily debated as more research shows it can be hazardous to health. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help prepare your body for the seasonal transitions.

What is Daylight Saving Time (DST)? 

DST refers to the annual period between March and November in which we move our clocks forward by one hour in the spring and back an hour in autumn.  The main purpose of DST is to make better use of the daylight by moving an hour of natural sunlight from the mornings to the evenings during spring, summer, and fall. The non-DST period between November and March is known as Standard Time.(1) While this bi-annual transition period does offer some benefits — namely longer days of sunlight – many researchers and doctors are in favor of a “national, fixed, year-round time.”(2)

Health Concerns Associated with Daylight Saving Time

It may not seem like a big deal, but setting the time forward (or back) an hour is enough to confuse our body’s internal clock, aka circadian rhythm. Why? Because the human body is biologically programmed to follow distinct light/dark cycles over an approximate 24-hour period. Light is a primary cue for hormones that tell us when to wake up, when to eat, and when to go to sleep. However, changes in our light exposure can cause circadian misalignment, which has been linked to a variety of potential health risks. 

In fact, every year on the Monday after the springtime switch, hospitals report a 24% spike in heart-attack visits around the US. This is likely not a coincidence as doctors observe the opposite trend each fall: The day after we turn back the clocks, heart attack visits drop 21% while people enjoy an extra hour of sleep.(3) Additionally, research has shown that the spring clock change is associated with an increase in road traffic accidentsworkplace injuries, poor mood, and reduced efficiency.(4)(5)(6) 

“That’s how fragile and susceptible your body is to even just one hour of lost sleep,” according to Dr. Matthew Walker, Sleep Scientist and author of Why We Sleep.

How to Prepare for Daylight Saving Time

Adjusting to time changes is different for everyone. While some people can recalibrate in a few days, others may need more time. Here are some simple steps that you can take to help prepare your mind and body for the upcoming clock change: 

  1. Start Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule Ahead of Time. About a week before we move the clocks forward, start going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier than your usual bedtime to help make up for the lost hour. 
  2. Maintain a Routine. Be consistent with when you wake up, eat, socialize, exercise, and go to bed during the transition to Daylight Saving Time. Getting at least 30 minutes of sunlight every day, especially in the morning will also help you make the shift. 
  3. Be Mindful of Naps. Napping isn’t inherently bad, but too much sleep during the day will make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep at night, so it is best to avoid naps leading during the DST transition. If you really need to snooze during the day, make sure that you keep it to 20 minutes or less. 
  4. Avoid Coffee and Alcohol. Studies show that caffeine can remain in your system for about 5-6 hours. So, if you go to bed at 9:00 p.m., you should have your last round of caffeine no later than 3:00 p.m. Alcohol is another potential culprit for disrupting sleep because of its sedative effect. Many people think that it helps them fall and stay asleep, but it acts more like anesthesia.(7) 

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