On Sunday, March 8, we will “spring forward.” Many countries around the world have been doing this for almost a century now. It was started in order to take advantage of all available light during the longer days starting in early spring and extending into late summer. Many now question whether or not Daylight Savings Time is as useful as it once was. We can use electricity rather than sunlight in order to perform jobs later into the night, and having our clocks reset doesn’t seem quite as necessary. Several countries, as well as some U.S. states, are beginning to opt out of this observance.
Many Americans, young and old alike will have to readjust their circadian rhythms that have become unbalanced as a result of this change of time. It can take days or weeks to readjust one’s sleep pattern. This is concerning, especially because sleep is so important in keeping your body healthy. Getting enough good quality sleep at the right time can help protect mental and physical health, and improve quality of life and safety.
Losing an hour of sleep (which we do in the Spring when we “spring forward”) has significant adverse affects on our health, not to mention the ripple effect that it can cause for several days or weeks afterward. When circadian rhythms are interrupted or altered, it can take significant amounts of time to even out, and cause mayhem in the meantime.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, and research published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, more cardiac events occur on Monday than any other day of the week. This could be linked to changes in sleep habits in transition from weekend to work week. Dr. Martin Young, an associate professor at UAB in the division of Cardiovascular Disease, says that the Monday and Tuesday following the start of Daylight Savings Time in the spring shows about a 10% increase in heart attacks while the reverse is true for when the clocks fall back in October.
Your heart isn’t the only thing to worry about with sleep deprivation. It also increases the risk of diabetes, inflammatory processes, and accidents/death both in vehicles and the workplace.
Young says “Every cell in the body has its own clock that allows it to anticipate when something is going to happen and prepare for it. When there is a shift in one’s environment, such as springing forward, it takes a while for the cells to readjust. It’s comparable to knowing that you have a meeting at 2 p.m. and having time to prepare your presentation instead of being told at the last minute and not being able to prepare. The internal clocks in each cell can prepare it for stress or a stimulus. When time moves forward, cell clocks are anticipating another hour to sleep that they won’t get, and the negative impact of the stress worsens; it has a much more detrimental effect on the body.”
So how can you prepare your body this weekend and during the next week for the coming change?
• Eat a good breakfast
• Wake up 30 minutes earlier than originally intended Saturday and Sunday
• Exercise in the mornings
• Go outside in the early morning sun
• Consider setting your clock forward on Friday night instead, giving yourself an extra 2 days to acclimate to the change
According to Dr. Young, “Doing all of this will help reset both the central, or master, clock in the brain that reacts to changes in light/dark cycles, and the peripheral clocks — the ones everywhere else including the one in the heart — that react to food intake and physical activity. This will enable your body to naturally synch with the change in the environment, which may lessen your chance of adverse health issues on Monday.”
Some other things you can do, as mentioned in an article by Dr. Mercola, include:
• Be particularly mindful of using electronic devices in the days prior to the switch-over. Research on teens shows that using electronics for four hours during the day can increase your risk of needing more than an hour to fall asleep by nearly 50 percent. Using any device for more than two hours per day increases the likelihood of needing more than an hour to fall asleep by 20 percent. So, if you’ve ever considered “unplugging” for a day or two, the weekend of the DST switch-over is a perfect time to turn everything off, or cut down your use of electronics to a bare minimum so that you can optimize your sleep.
• Pay attention to your diet, making sure you are consuming plenty of fresh, whole foods, preferably organic, and minimal amounts of processed foods and fast foods. Keep your sugar consumption very low, especially fructose.
• Practice good sleep hygiene, including sleeping in complete darkness, checking your bedroom for EMFs (electrical and magnetic forces, a source of radiation), and keeping your bedroom temperature no higher than 70 degrees.
• Optimize your vitamin D levels.
• Manage your stress with whatever stress-busting techniques work for you.
• Consider supplementing with melatonin if you have trouble sleeping.
• If you have a fitness tracker that tracks sleep, start using it. If you don’t have one, you may want to consider getting one. During daylight savings time, making sure you’re getting enough sleep may be more important than ever. One of the keys to optimizing your sleep is going to bed early enough, because if you have to get up at 6:30am, you’re just not going to get enough sleep if you go to bed after midnight. Chances are you’re getting at least 30 minutes less sleep than you think, as most people do not fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow.
• Many fitness trackers can now track both daytime body movement and sleep, allowing you to get a better picture of how much sleep you’re actually getting. Newer devices, like Jawbone’s UP3 that should be released sometime this year, can even tell you which activities led to your best sleep and what factors resulted in poor sleep.
Don’t forget to set your clocks forward this Sunday evening. But prepare yourself starting today in order to minimize your risk of adverse health effects and maximize your sleep.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN