The health impacts of daylight savings time

Falling back doesn’t just make for a sleepy Monday morning; it also affects the health and safety of just about everyone. That’s why experts (and legislators) are considering an end to the back-and-forth that confuses our bodies twice per year and instead establish permanent Standard Time. In fact, the twice-annual time change can harm patient health and cause damage to circadian rhythms.

Falling Back
There are a multitude of negative consequences from the shift from Daylight Saving Time. Just the one-hour time shift can make it harder to wake up and fall asleep on a set schedule. Immediately following the “falling back” time shift, it can be difficult to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. This can lead to less hours of sleep overall, and that sleep deprivation can pose safety risks, including a higher likelihood of motor vehicle accidents on days following the time shift.

There are individual health concerns, too: switching from Daylight Saving Time is associated with cardiovascular morbidity, a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke, and an increase in hospital admissions for irregular heartbeats, for example.

Health Risks
Light is the most powerful regulator of our internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, and some people may not even adjust to the time change after several months. When the clocks on the wall shift back our exposure to morning sunlight in the morning happens earlier, which makes it harder to maintain a standard sleep schedule, and exposure to evening light decreases, which signals to our brain to sleep earlier. The chronic misalignment between the internal clock and occupational, family, and social activities can be very disruptive.

Research shows this twice-a-year desynchronization of our body clocks has been linked to increased health risks such as depression, obesity, heart attack, cancer, and increased likelihood of a car accident. The interruption in circadian rhythms causes dysfunctions in metabolic, behavioral, and cognitive abilities. For patients with chronic conditions, this shift can exacerbate health issues or cause confusion over when to take medications. In fact, stroke rates are 8% higher in the first two days following time changes – often a result of lost sleep or missed medications.

Surviving Time Changes
The fall time change of “falling back” is thought to be an easier adjustment but research studies have found that any disruption can increase health risks. There are steps to reduce the impact of the time change transition, helping to decrease the impact on health and sleep. These include:

  • Making a gradual shift – start adjusting bedtime schedules by 10-15 minutes a few days before the time change to help the body slowly adjust.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule – once the clock changes, try to keep the bedtime schedule as normal as possible, sticking to the normal times for eating and exercising.
  • Use a medication reminder – for patients who take medications daily, use of a medication tool such as Medisafe can help to automatically adjust to the new time zone and when to take medications on time.
  • Get out in the sun – spending time outdoors during daylight hours, even if it’s only for a quick walk can help stimulate the body. Sitting by a window or light therapy can also help.
  • Limit caffeine intake – no need to skip the morning coffee but don’t go overboard with an afternoon boost. Stay away from caffeinated beverages in the evening to help stick to a sleep schedule.

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