Article at a Glance:
“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.
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)
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 accidents, workplace 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.
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: