Health&Fitness Talk

Supporting Healthy Life Styles

Daylight Savings’ Effect on Your Health Daylight Savings’ Effect on Your Health
In recent years, researchers have been studying the effects of changing the time on health and discovered there are numerous adverse affects. First of... Daylight Savings’ Effect on Your Health

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Every spring and fall most of the US, Canada and Europe move their clock either ahead or backward by one hour depending on the season.  Daylight saving time or DST was first introduced back in WWI and was widely used throughout the 1950’s and ’60’s.  However, during the energy crisis of the 1970’s it’s use expanded and continues to be used throughout Europe and North America.  Then the Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended DST by four weeks.  Now DST begins the second Sunday in March and ends the first Sunday in November.dst

In recent years, researchers have been studying the effects of changing the time on health and discovered there are numerous adverse affects. First of all, changing the time, whether forward or backward, changes our ability to set and reset our circadian rhythm or our natural 24 hour cycle.  This causes our internal clock to become out of whack with our current cycle of night and day.  This can lead to more than just the loss of an hour of sleep.  The disruption in our normal sleep rhythm can cause numerous issues including changes in mood and even has lead to an increase in suicides.  In a survey done by the Better Sleep Council at least 40% of those surveyed reported that it took at least a week and for some even longer to adjust to the new timeline.  The change tends to affect young adults and women the most with complaints of forgetfulness, a change in behavior and tardiness as well as difficulty concentrating.  In fact some companies report a dramatic increase in employees surfing the web instead of working in the first week after the time change.  For those people that are considered night owls the impact of DST is even harder and it can take them several weeks to adjust to the new time.  There have also been studies where researchers found that heart attacks increase by almost 4% during the week after changing to DST and for those already being treated for cardiac disease the incidence is even higher.  Another study done on 21 years of accident reports indicated there is a “significant  increase in fatal crashes” on the first Monday after the time change.  Another long term study indicated accidents in the workplace are not only more common but also more severe in the week immediately following the change to DST.
Believe it or not DST is not a federal law.  The “law” only sets the starting and ending dates for DST and then it is up to the individual states, counties, and territories as to whether or not they want to change.  One national survey indicates that only 37% of Americans  feel that DST is worth the trouble.  However, some experts feel that the solution to the problem is to stay on DST year round.  One report done in 2004 states that by staying on DST year round would provide sufficient extra daylight to avoid hundreds of fatal crashes.  In fact it specifically stated that it would save 195 drivers and passengers as well as 171 pedestrians.
So what can you do to reset your internal clock and adapt to the time change more quickly?  One of the most important things you can do is expose yourself to as much light as possible while you are awake.  Light suppresses the melatonin that our brain produces to induce sleep.  On the other hand it’s also important to not expose yourself to bright light when it’s dark outside.  In other words if you get up to use the bathroom at night don’t turn on the light it could interfere with your ability to get back to sleep.  It’s best to install a night light for safety, one that has enough light so you can see but not enough to suppress melatonin production.  It is also important to establish good sleep habits like avoiding caffeine and/or alcohol in the hours before going to bed.  And regardless of the time change it’s important to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday.