It’s that time of year again: daylight savings (DST). This Sunday, November 5 at 2:00 a.m., residents up and down the eastern U.S. states will once again turn back their clocks one hour, catching up on an extra 60 minutes of precious sleep. Though the end of daylight savings heralds the warming of the weather, for most, the time change brought by fall is the most enjoyable, allowing for that little extra snooze time for the first few mornings until the body adjusts. Think of it sort of like an early Christmas present, as 35 percent of Americans report getting less than seven hours of sleep per night.
Losing or gaining an hour may not seem like a big deal but, in reality the twice per year time change can actually have consequences on our health. A one hour difference can cause disruptions to our internal clock otherwise known as our circadian rhythm. Often referred to as the “body clock,” the circadian rhythm is a cycle telling our bodies when to sleep, rise and eat. It also regulates many physiological processes, and is affected by environmental cues like sunlight and temperature. When one’s circadian rhythm is disrupted even a little, sleeping and eating patterns can go haywire. There is even a growing body of research examining the long-term adverse health effects a disrupted circadian rhythm can have, like an increased chance of cardiovascular events, obesity, and a correlation with neurological problems like depression and bipolar disorder. Here are some of the known consequences of daylight savings Time:
- It triggers the release of melatonin
Falling back one hour in the fall means losing the number of sunlight hours our bodies have come to expect during the spring and summer. As the sky darkens earlier and earlier, that will trigger the release of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the eye’s pineal gland that helps to maintain normal sleep patterns. On the one hand that can be a good thing—this is your body’s normal reaction to darkness. But on the other, the early arrival of darkness each night may leaving you feeling sluggish, making it less likely you’ll want to hit the gym and more likely you feel you want to stay in and hibernate.
To combat these hibernation feelings, stick to a sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and avoid three-hour power naps in the afternoon. This includes weekends. You want to keep your weekday and weekend schedules almost identical, since the human body does not react well to drastically different sleep cycles throughout the week.
- It allows you to get adequate sleep
While it might be hard to keep yourself motivated during the evenings of early darkness, getting enough sleep is a positive part of daylight savings. Gaining that one hour in the fall is far more beneficial for our health than losing an hour in the spring. It has been found that on the Monday after the fall transition, heart attack rates decrease. Our hearts speak loud and clear—more sleep equals less stress. Insufficient sleep also messes with the body’s hormones and increases the levels of inflammatory chemicals that contribute to heart disease.
- It may change your mood
With the earlier arrival of darkness in the evenings, and longer periods without daylight, comes the arrival of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. A Danish study found there was an 11 percent increase in depression after switching back our clocks in the fall. Another study from Australia found that male suicides rates increased the after the spring and fall DST shift.
How do you make the transition smoothly?
- Have a nighttime ritual. Get your body in the habit of slowing down before bedtime. Dim your lights and take a warm bath or shower. Turn off the TV and put your phone, computer or tablet away Any and all screen time should be avoided. The high-intensity light from electronics often hinders melatonin release, keeping your brain stimulated and making it hard to fall asleep.
- The night before DST, go to bed on Saturday and get up on Sunday at your usual times.
- Keep your bedroom curtains or blinds closed, since the Sunday sunrise will come an hour early.
- Once awake, expose yourself to daylight as soon as you wake up on Sunday.
- Maintain your normal routine for your Sunday schedule, including mealtimes.
- Eat a healthy breakfast—food tells your body the day has begun.
- Go for a walk sometime on Sunday—being outdoors exposed to light helps to adjust your body clock.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical contributor for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com, davidsamadiwiki, davidsamadibio and Facebook