daylight savings time fall

Sleep Troubles? Blame Daylight Savings Time

Read Time: 4 minutes

Were you surprised last Monday morning that you felt even more exhausted than usual with daylight savings time ending? You weren’t alone.

In 1916, Germany used daylight savings time throughout the country to save fuel during WWI. President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law in the United States in 1918 for the same reason but was later repealed until 1942, when President Roosevelt reinstituted it during WWII.

Now,  over 70 countries worldwide use daylight savings time. Daylight savings time impacts the health and sleeping patterns of people across the globe — but why does it have such a profound effect?

It Disrupts Your Rhythm

It doesn’t necessarily seem like only an hour should have such an enormous impact on your system, but it does. Why? It boils down to rhythm.

Your body’s circadian rhythm is the internal clock that helps you stay on a natural waking and sleeping cycle. It also contributes to regulating your body temperature, metabolism, and hormones. However, since “time” is actually a human creation, your body naturally aligns more with actual daylight rather than any spring forward, fall back schedule.

Therefore, setting your clock back an hour won’t always make you feel like well rested because you’re naturally inclined to follow your original routine. You probably woke up at the same time you did before the time change, right? If you’re nodding your head now, it because we’re all creatures of habit. Unfortunately, while your body knew to wake up that the same time, it’s now dark when you wake up, and the sun will set earlier. This disrupts your rhythm.

When your circadian rhythm is upset, the impact on your health can be significant. One study showed that because people were getting more sleep, the number of heart attacks in the week after the fall time change was about 21% lower than any other week.

Unfortunately, the reverse was true in the spring when people got less sleep. There were as much as 24% more heart attacks during the week after the time change. An hour may not seem like a significant amount of time on the clock, but for your body, even the smallest change in your rhythm can be dangerous.

It Can Affect Your Mood

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression caused by the changes in daylight, and people are at more risk of it in winter, during daylight savings time. It usually affects those who live in parts of the country that tend to be darker during the winter months. Over time it received the nickname Winter Blues. It affects more people this time of year since shorter days force people to spend more waking hours in the dark.

The effects of the increased darkness include:

  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Extreme sleeping patterns — from insomnia to excessive sleeping
  • Weight gain
  • Thoughts of hopelessness
  • Suicidal tendencies

If you find that you, or a loved one, are experiencing any of these symptoms, or other symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, seek professional help. Often, treatment is as simple as light therapy. Light therapy uses a special UV lamp that mimics the benefits of the sun. Increasing your Vitamin D intake can also help. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment.

It Makes for Possible Trouble Sleeping

If you already have difficulty sleeping, that change of an hour one way or another can be especially disruptive. More hours in the dark mean you may find it harder to wake, or harder to fall asleep. It can take even longer for someone with an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder to adjust to the time change.

One simple suggestion for helping your body accommodate the change is to start a routine in the evenings that will help you relax and prepare for sleep. You might want to try taking a hot bath or listening to calming music.

However, try to avoid falling asleep with the TV going — even if it means cutting your binge-watching session short. TV, smartphones, and other blue light-emitting devices can actually disrupt your sleeping patterns even more. You’ll also want to avoid alcoholic drinks as well as beverages with caffeine, such as tea, sodas or coffee, for at least a few hours before bed. Not smoking for several hours before you’re ready to call it a day can also help.

Rolling With the Time Change

Winter isn’t the only season to contribute to irregular sleep patterns. Long summer days can also play a part in your routine and sleep cycle.

If you live in an area that doesn’t get dark until well after nine or ten at night in the summer, it can be another shock to your rhythm in the fall. Why? There is a distinct difference between it getting dark at four or five in the afternoon as opposed to after nine. Fortunately, there are easy ways to help minimize the shock of time changes.  Try to maintain a regular sleep pattern throughout the year — even if you need to use eye masks, ear plugs or room-darkening curtains.

In all circumstances,  if you find that you aren’t getting enough sleep or are experiencing symptoms of insomnia, talk to your doctor. A lack of sleep dangerously impacts your health. It can also cause you to doze off at inappropriate times — resulting in potentially devastating consequences.

For now, though, as you groggily pour your second — or seventh — cup of coffee, you can blame daylight savings time like the rest of us.

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Category: Physical Health


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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.