Daylight Saving & Your Sleep Health

Cropped SingleCare logo By | March 4, 2016

Daylight Saving Time springs forward most areas of the U.S. on March 13 — but some experts say that the lost hour takes a lasting toll on our health. Here’s a rundown of the research with tips on how to stay sharp despite the shift.

Chances are you’re not looking forward to that familiar groggy feeling when you wake up on March 13 — but did you know that Daylight Saving Time (DST) can do more than just make you feel sleepy? Most of us will have marked the date in our calendars and will remember to turn forward our watches and clocks, but the health effects of DST are less widely known. Because of the way sleep and daylight affect our bodies, the net effects of observing DST can be far reaching.

Spring Forward, Fall Back

According to Jennifer Welsh of TechInsider, losing just one hour of sleep at DST can be so disorienting because of the way it affects our bodies’ natural patterns. The sleep cycle is mediated by melatonin, a hormone our body produces in response to changes in light: we produce less when it’s bright out and more when it gets dark, signalling to our bodies to go to sleep. When we wake up on March 13, it’s darker than it was the morning before at the same time, meaning the normal signal our body gets from outside light levels to wake up is no longer there.

The overall effect is profound. Cornell University’s study of high school students,published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, found they lost a total of 2 hours 42 minutes of sleep in the week after the daylight saving took affect. The loss of sleep resulted longer reaction times and increased daytime sleepiness and concentration lapses. And researchers from Germany’s Ludwig-Maximilians University found that neither early risers nor night owls truly adjust to the time shift, operating below optimum levels until clocks turn back in the fall, according to ABC. Because of the time change, we could all be operating with too little sleep for half the year.

Lost Sleep is Lost Health

The effects of not getting enough shut-eye include weight gain, depression and anxiety. Sleep debt affects us, especially those with existing health issues: a study of Type 2 diabetics demonstrated that as little as half an hour of sleep debt increased their risk of insulin resistance and obesity, according to Medical News Today. Heart attack rates have been observed to increase after the clocks go forward, though there is a corresponding dip after they go back, as open heart reports.

The effects of DST can even be deadly: driving drowsy is a known dangerous side effect. University of Colorado researchers confirmed fatal traffic accidents spike after the spring clock change, according to telegram.com. Stay safe and don’t get behind the wheel if the time shift has you feeling tired.

Save Yourself from Daylight Saving

The National Sleep Foundation suggests using the time change as an opportunity to make sure your sleeping habits are working for you. They suggest going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding bright light before bedtime, and taking time to chill out and unwind before turning in — good advice any time of the year.

Daylight Saving Time can be a nuisance, but with a bit of focus you should weather the time storm—and can look forward to getting that precious hour back in November. In the meantime, make sure to keep your regularly scheduled appointments with your physician and don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you’re really feeling out of it. For access to the best doctors, SingleCare provides a network that’s second to none — no matter your level of healthcare coverage.