Health Effects of Daylight Saving Time

Health Effects of Daylight Saving Time

It’s that time of year again: daylight saving time (DST). It’s time to set the clocks back an hour, technically at 2:00am to end DST. While most of us consider the “fall back” to be a treat, giving us an extra hour of sleep in the morning, we don’t realize how it can impact us. We might gain a brighter morning, but that little shift in our time can have a big impact on our body clock and our health.

What is Daylight Saving Time?

DST is a seasonal time change where clocks are set ahead of standard time by one hour in the spring of the year and set back that one hour in the fall of the year. When daylight saving time begins, the sun rises and sets later. This is the reason we have long hours of daylight in the summer months.

History of Daylight Saving Time

There are a variety of hypotheses regarding who originated the concept of DST. Some say Benjamin Franklin was the first to suggest a seasonal time change as an effective way to save on candle usage and allow people to take advantage of early morning light. Others suggest that the idea was invented by New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson and British builder William Willett.

DST was originally initiated during World War I to save energy for the war effort. Current reasons behind daylight saving time are also related to energy conservation, though there is much debate on the topic.

Health Impacts of Daylight Saving Time

Sleep – Transitions associated with the start and end of DST disturb sleep patterns and make people restless at night. The restlessness results in sleepiness the next day, even during the fall when the clocks “fall back.” It might seem like a gift to have that extra hour of sleep in the morning, but the upset to your routine can actually cause an adjustment period for your sleep schedule.

Fatigue – Changes in your sleep cycle can leave you fatigued and feeling a bit out of sorts. This fatigue is often compared to jet lag and can cause increased sleepiness, delayed reaction time, and attention lapses. These effects can cause havoc on your personal and professional life, as well as your attentiveness while driving.

Cluster headaches – For those who get cluster headaches, attacks often occur around seasonal changes.

Depression – Losing an hour of light can be a serious downer. The amount of daylight a person is exposed to can have an impact on mood. When the time falls back an hour and the daylight hours get shorter, studies have shown an increase in depression diagnoses.

Heart attacks and strokes – Studies have shown that stroke rates rise when daylight saving time starts and ends. Studies also show that heart attack rates increase after the spring time change.

How to Prepare for Daylight Saving Time

Adjust your inner clock gradually – For several days before the time change, adjust your morning and evening routine by 15 minutes each day (earlier or later, depending on whether you are adjusting for the spring or fall change). This should create an easier transition over the course of several days, versus the abrupt one-hour change.

Stick to your sleep schedule – Keeping to your regular sleep cycle is important for optimal body performance. Watch the clock and adhere to your usual wake up and sleep times. Getting up earlier or going to bed later on account of extra daylight can confuse the proper functioning of your body.

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