Daylight Saving Time and Your Health
Most of the United States shifts between standard and daylight saving time (DST) each year in an effort to “save” natural light. Clocks will get set one hour back on Sunday, Nov. 6, when the DST period ends. Although you may be excited about gaining another hour in your day, DST can wreak havoc on your physical and cognitive health for several days, weeks, or even months.
The disruption of DST can negatively impact your health. Your internal clock regulates critical processes, including liver function and the immune system. Interruptions to the circadian rhythm, your body’s 24-hour biological cycle that regulates wake and sleep, can also impair your focus and judgment.
For example, a study published in Current Biology found fatal U.S. traffic accidents increased by 6% in the week following DST. Fortunately, there are ways to increase your odds of a smooth DST transition.
Go to bed and get up at the same time. Get at least seven hours of sleep on the day(s) before and after the transition. Lack of sleep tells the body to store fat. The closer you stick to your normal routine, the faster your body will adjust to the time change.
Practice good habits before bedtime. In the days after the time change, quit caffeinated beverages 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol in the evening. If you are exercising, avoid workouts within 4 hours of bedtime because raising your body’s core temperature can make it harder to fall asleep.
Keep your dinnertime consistent. Eat more protein and fewer carbs. On the days around the time change, eat at the same time or even eat a little early. To ease the transition, shift your mealtime forward 15 minutes for a few days in a row.
Get more light! Go outside and get exposure to morning sunlight on the Sunday after the time change to help regulate your internal clock. Having shorter daylight hours affects our mood and energy levels, decreasing serotonin. Make time to take a morning or early afternoon walk outside when the Sun is out. Try using a light therapy box or an alarm light that brightens as you wake up.
Take a short cat nap. Some folks may disagree, but if you’re starting to stack up sleepless hours, it’s safer and healthier for your body to give in to a short nap than to continue without sleep. Make it a short nap (no more than 20 minutes) to restore lost sleep hours; however, do NOT take long naps. It may help to go outside into the natural sunlight to cue your body and help retrain your inner clock.
While you may be tempted to use the extra hour to indulge in various activities, health experts recommend using that time for sleep. To help make the DST transition easier, consider going to bed 15-20 minutes early in the days beforehand to help your body get used to the difference. If you have specific health concerns, talk to your doctor.