Daylight saving got you down? You’re not alone

daylight saving blues copy

If you’re still feeling knackered from the time change with daylight saving  you’re not alone. Changing the time throws a kink in the fragile and sensitive human biological clock, leaving many people feeling continuously jet lagged for a few weeks.

An hour of lost sleep might not sound like a big deal, but if you or your friends and coworkers are any indication, it makes for some groggy and grumpy days, bouts of insomnia, and feeling generally off.

It’s not just a hunch — scientific studies have demonstrated various ways in which the bi-annual time change messes with our health.

The body has genes that flip on and off to keep us in a steady rhythm of sleeping and waking. When we throw those genes off beat by artificially changing the time, the effect extends into the rest of the body, including muscles, the skeleton, the pancreas, etc. The disruption is felt body-wide.

How daylight saving time can impact health

This disruption dulls the brain and throws the body’s systems off, resulting in serious and even fatal consequences for some people.

For instance, past studies have shown driving fatalities, workplace injuries, and heart attacks go up after the spring-forward change in time. An Australian study found that even suicides increase after the time change.

Unsurprisingly, work productivity goes down as well, causing losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Night owls, people who naturally are more inclined to stay up late and sleep later in the morning take the longest to recover.

Worst of all, some studies suggest our bodies never really adjust to time changes. We’re designed to sync with natural changes in light throughout the year, not artificially inflicted ones.

How to recover from daylight saving time

Although people complain and we see a spate of news stories every spring bemoaning the change in time, we’re nevertheless stuck with it until politicians add it to their to-do list.

Understanding the effect of the time change on your body can help you better know how to ease the transition into suddenly waking up an hour earlier.

Avoid overdoing it for a while. Because you know your whole body is struggling to adjust to being thrown out of whack, don’t expect too much from yourself. Avoid scheduling high-risk or energy demanding activities the week after the time change. And be extra careful driving.

Schedule in some naps and restful mornings. If you’re like most people, you’ll be sleep-deprived for a week or two. Take a lunch nap in your car at work, let yourself rest on a weekend morning, and be extra disciplined about getting to bed early enough.

Wear orange glasses at night. Wear some orange safety glasses a couple of hours before bed to shield your eyes from artificial blue light from light bulbs, the TV, and computer and phone screens. This facilitates production of sleep hormones and will help ease you into the new schedule.

Get some sunshine during the day. Our bodies were designed to wake and sleep according to the light of the seasons, not an industrialized schedule. Get as much natural light as you can during the day and avoid artificial sources of blue light (computer, TV, smart phones) in the evening.

Hard time recovering from Daylight Saving Time?

DST health impacts

Do you curse every spring when we have to move the clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time (DST)? Does it take you weeks to recover? You’re not alone. Studies show DST is hard on our health and dangerous to boot, making it an outdated relic that adds stress to an already over-stressed society.

DST doesn’t just make people tired in the morning. Studies show the number of car accidents increases after DST, likely due to tired drivers. A Swedish study also found that the risk of heart attacks goes up the first few days after DST, and that risk drops after setting the time back to Standard Time. An Australian study showed an increase in suicides the first few weeks after DST goes into effect.

Some people aren’t ruffled by the change in time, others recover in a few days, and then there are those for whom DST means a few weeks of feeling out of whack while their body adjusts. In fact, one study showed our bodies never fully adjust to DST until we switch back to Standard Time. Night owls are affected the worst, taking as long as three weeks to recover. Research has shown on their days off, people revert to sleeping and waking according to what’s seasonally appropriate, not what DST dictates.

We are designed to gradually adjust to the changes in light as the seasons change. Forcing this change overnight once a year flies in the face of our internal clocks, which are tuned into nature.

This is because light dictates how much of the sleep hormone melatonin we make. The more light we are exposed to the less melatonin we make so that we are awake longer.

The sudden disruption to our internal clocks with the time change and loss of sleep causes a loss in production, concentration, and memory, as well as fatigue and sleepiness during the day.

DST bad for business as well as health

Enacted during World War I to decrease energy costs, DST has now been shown to actually increase energy demands, due largely to more air conditioner use and more driving time to daylight activities. Also, contrary to popular belief, it does not benefit farmers; they actually oppose it. Dairy farmers in particular say cows do not easily adapt to the change in schedule. Orthodox religions don’t like their sunrise and sunset prayer tinkered with. However, the golf, barbecue, and retail industries love it.

Broader research has shown DST costs the economy anywhere from $400 million to $2 billion due to loss of productivity, workplace injury, and “cyber loafing.”

How to cope with Daylight Saving Time

If DST is wrecking you those first few weeks, you can do a few things to help ease the transition (in addition to signing an online petition to end DST):

Lay low until you adjust. Honor the disruption to your natural rhythms and take it easy by avoiding taking on extra activities or added stressors until you feel back to normal. Also, avoid dangerous activities.

Add in extra time to rest and nap. The biggest cost of DST is sleep loss, especially if you are a night owl. It is difficult to go to bed and wake up an hour earlier. Make time for a nap or at least some time to lie down and rest during the day those first few weeks.

Block blue light at night to help you adjust. Wearing orange glasses in the evening a couple of hours before bed will also help increase the production of sleep hormones so you can fall asleep. Exposure to sunlight during the day will also help regulate sleep hormones. You can use a light box in the mornings to help you wake up.

Ask my office for advice on helping you sleep better.