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IS DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH?
March 15, 2014
By Dr. Beth Quintana, N.D.
Well, we’ve done it again. Last weekend many of us set our clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Saving Time. We “spring forward” one hour. That’s it, just one hour. No big deal, right? Unfortunately that may not be the case, as ongoing research reveals. So what’s the deal? Let me lay it out for you to play it out.
Our sleep/wake cycle is guided by our circadian rhythm, known to many as our “body clock”. Our circadian rhythm regulates when we feel awake and when we feel sleepy, as well as our hunger and hormone production schedules. Visual exposure to light plays a governing role in our body’s regulation of this internal clock. When it's bright out, we make less melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. When it's dark, our body increases the synthesis and availability of this sleep-inducing substance, preparing our body for the rest and repair that slumbering provides.
With the onset of Daylight Saving Time (DST), the sun rises later, making it more difficult to wake in the morning. Because our body clock uses our exposure to light to regulate the sleep/wake cycle, when these cues shift, it causes some confusion. Like anytime you lose sleep, springing forward causes decreases in performance, concentration, and memory common to sleep-deprived individuals, as well as fatigue and daytime sleepiness. And to make matters worse, many Americans are ALREADY chronically under-slept. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this sleep deprivation is “a national public health epidemic.”
The resulting sleepiness can lead to a whole host of detriments to our health and performance, like more car accidents and workplace injuries. The loss of sleep can have cognitive effects as well. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, students in counties where DST was observed had lower standardized test scores – 2% lower -- than those of students who didn't have to spring forward or fall back.
An increase in heart attacks is also seen with the onset of DST according to multiple studies, including one in the American Journal of Cardiology. That’s right. Losing just one hour of sleep increases stress and provides less time to recover overnight. Incidentally, the opposite is also true: when we gain an extra hour of sleep with the end of Daylight Saving, there appears to be a decrease in heart attacks.
One behavior that may not surprise you, but the name of which threw me for a loop, has become more pervasive with the expansion of technology in our daily lives. I was at once entertained and horrified to learn of a modern-day quandary called "cyberloafing." As you may imagine, this virtual doodling occurs as people muck around more on the computer instead of getting the job done, and its prevalence increases after we “spring forward.”
This all sounds like the pits, if you ask me. However, with this knowledge comes an opportunity to take an inventory of your sleep habits and make any necessary adjustments to adjust to the shifting daylight without a hitch. Here are some suggestions:
Use morning light to help your sleep at night. Get a good dose of sunlight early in the day, then limit your light exposure later at night. This includes artificial sources of light.
Stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends.
.No screen time at bedtime - avoid watching TV or checking emails in bed.