- Daylight saving time can throw off your body and sleeping patterns.
- Some people may handle the change differently than others during the pandemic.
- There are ways to help your body acclimate to time change.
As we spring ahead on March 13, losing an hour can throw off your days. But this year, daylight saving time (DST) might have a different effect on your body.
“Because many are working from home, people may have more flexible schedules and find it easier to adjust to the time change without the added stress of a commute,” Eve Van Cauter, PhD, chair of Sleep Number’s scientific advisory board and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, told Healthline.
She added, “Children, who typically don’t adjust well to sleep disruptions, will likely also adjust better to the clock change, given many of them are learning virtually and won’t experience the usual hassle to get out the door in the morning.”
While some people may find it easier to adjust their schedules because they have more flexible time demands during the pandemic, Jennifer Martin, PhD, member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) board of directors and professor of medicine at UCLA, said others may not.
“For many people, the impact will be the same. Students, for example, will still have to wake up and start classes an hour earlier, and workers with set schedules will still experience the negative effects of a lost hour of sleep,” Martin told Healthline.
Light exposure is crucial to synchronize body clocks with the environment.
Van Cauter explained that the human circadian clock is delayed by increased exposure to evening light, which occurs with the switch to DST in spring, and is advanced after more morning light exposure, which occurs with the change back to standard time in fall.
“The body clock will be temporarily out of sync with the light-dark cycle, and this condition, often referred to as ‘circadian misalignment,’ has well-documented adverse health effects, including on metabolic and immune function,” she said.
While most people adjust a few days after the time change, the AASM issued a position statement calling for the elimination of daylight saving time and to switch to permanent standard time, “which more closely aligns with the daily rhythms of the body’s internal clock,” said Martin.
According to an AASM survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 63 percent of respondents support the elimination of seasonal time changes in favor of a national, fixed, year-round time, and only 11 percent oppose it.
“The lost hour of sleep can make people feel tired, and the shift in clock time disrupts your body’s natural clock, creating a temporary 1-hour ‘jet lag,’” said Martin. “Because of this shift, it can be hard to get enough sleep during the following workweek — not to mention making it dangerous to get behind the wheel while drowsy in the morning.”
She pointed out that traffic accidents increase in the first few days after the switch to daylight saving time, with an increase in fatal traffic accidents of up to 6 percent in the United States.
Additionally, research from the Sleep Research Society found an 18 percent increase in adverse medical events related to human error in the week after switching to daylight saving time.
“There is significant evidence of increased risks of cardiovascular events and mood disturbances following the annual ‘spring forward’ to daylight saving time,” said Martin.
While DST has been debated for years, Van Cauter said that more than two decades of research has proven there are negative health consequences to the change between standard time and DST.
“Most of the evidence for adverse effects focuses on the spring transition from standard time to DST. The shift can cause sleep loss, increased brain fog, and drowsiness, and population studies have observed an elevated risk of myocardial infarction, stroke, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation within a few days of the switch,” said Van Cauter.
Additionally, because some people experience mood disturbances and seasonal affective disorder during the winter months, longer days may help improve mood.
“These individuals often experience better mood in the spring. Increasing physical activity does have a positive impact on mood, so getting outside for exercise can help people feel better,” said Martin.
With some planning and preparation, you can minimize the effects of the change to DST with the following tips.
Martin suggests getting up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each day for up to 4 nights before the time change.
“If you think you can fall asleep, also get into bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier,” she said.
She also suggested adjusting the timing of other daily routines “that are ‘time cues’ for your body, (i.e., meals, exercise).”
The night of the time change — Saturday night — set your clocks ahead 1 hour in the early evening.
“Then go to sleep at your normal bedtime,” said Martin.
The Better Sleep Council (BSC) suggests making your bed a sanctuary for sleep by keeping it quiet, dark, and cool, as well as setting up the physical space of your bedroom to promote better sleep.
For instance, BSC recommends that your mattress is no more than 7 years old and is suited to your body. Additionally, the ideal temperature for sleep is 65°F (18°C).
If you have trouble sleeping, a weighted blanket can be beneficial because it offers deep pressure stimulation, which can have a calming effect.
To get your mind and body into sleep mode, BSC suggests going screenless by keeping laptops, phones, and work out of your bedroom at night.
Finding ways to relax before bed, such as meditating, reading a book, or doing yoga can also get you ready for bed.
After the time change, Van Cauter recommends going outside as soon as you wake up to get some sun exposure.
“The morning light exposure will advance your clock and stop the release of melatonin, the hormone that signals darkness to our internal organs. This is key to helping your body adjust to the change,” she said.
Establishing a regular exercise routine can help with sleep.
“Physical activity is very important to circadian rhythms and can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep, so it’s important to stay active, particularly in the morning,” said Van Cauter.