As the seasons transition, it's time to change the clock again. This biannual tradition of Daylight Saving Time began in an era where our primary motive was to conserve resources while extending the workday by an extra hour of daylight to maximize productivity. Fast forward to today, when we are not as dependent on natural light to complete our daily tasks, we still partake in this global time-changing ritual. While our devices now handle the time change automatically, its effects on our lives are still significant as we seesaw between “Springing Forward” and “Falling Back.” While some parts of the world have done away with daylight saving time, for those of us still experiencing it this year, let’s explore ways this seasonal change impacts us in more ways than you might expect.
1. Disrupted sleep patterns
One of the first noticeable impacts is on our sleep. While an extra hour of sleep is a great opportunity in the fall, it disrupts our body’s natural 24-hour clock called the circadian rhythm, responsible for our sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes. This disturbance leads to confusion and disorientation in the body during the adjustment period. This impact is even more pronounced in spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, causing fatigue, grogginess, and difficulty concentrating and paying attention. This has further impact on our physical, mental, and social well-being.
2. Exacerbating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Daylight Saving Time can also intensify the symptoms of individuals already susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that impacts individuals during the fall and winter months when there is less natural light. The reduced exposure to natural light as we set our clocks can increase feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest or pleasure in activities.
3. Appetite changes and cravings
Eating meals around a particular time creates a routine that is disrupted after the time change and you may notice yourself feeling hungry an hour before your mealtime during the fall time change. Whereas the “spring forward” time might result in you not feeling as hungry at your regular mealtime, resulting in reduced appetite and cravings after a few hours. And so, the lack of sleep and hunger might lead to increased cravings as well.
4. Decreased efficiency at work
This disruption also follows you to your workplace and you might notice a decrease in productivity and efficiency due to the impact of sleep disruption on attention, concentration, and decision-making. All of these, along with the other impacts of Daylight Saving Time mentioned in the blog, result in workplace accidents and can lead to dire consequences in some instances of human error at work such as in hospitals, manufactories, etc. Even though this time change was started to increase efficiency and productivity at work, it might not have similar outcomes today.
5. Impact on physical health
Studies show that these sudden transitions which impact our body’s functioning can also impact cardiovascular health, leading to heart attacks and strokes, especially in those more susceptible to them. It can also increase vulnerability to substance abuse and cause injuries due to a rise in accidents during this transition.
6. Increased irritability and low mood
The time change that adds or cuts off an hour of morning sunlight from our schedule causes a fluctuation in the levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in our body. Reduced exposure to sunlight can lead to lower serotonin levels that cause feelings of sadness or low energy. Sleep disturbance during this period can also cause mood swings and irritability. Additionally, factors like pre-existing mood disorders or individual differences in serotonin levels can also influence how an individual is impacted by the transitions due to daylight saving time.
7. Impact on Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents have more sensitive circadian rhythms which makes it more difficult for them to adjust to disruptions to their sleep schedule due to the time change. This can impact their performance at school and their overall behavior and well-being. Parents of younger children also might find it difficult to manage their children sleeping or waking up at irregular times while they adapt, which in turn impacts their sleep.
Now, we know that it can be challenging to adjust to the time change and it can take a different amount of time for every individual. But there are ways you can help your body adapt to these changes more efficiently.
1. Adjusting sleep schedule a few days before the time change. If you are "springing forward," go to bed and wake up 15-30 minutes earlier each day. If you are "falling back," go to bed and wake up 15-30 minutes later each day.
2. Exposing yourself to morning sunlight. Trying to get some sunlight after waking up can help your body to regulate its circadian rhythm, and increase your serotonin levels which will help to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and also improve mood and overall wellbeing.
3. Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed. Even though caffeine might help you get through your midday fog after poor sleep, and alcohol might help sleep early, they disrupt your sleep schedule and sleep hygiene making it more difficult to adapt to the change. Thus, avoiding or reducing them during the transition period is recommended.
4. Artificial light. The usage of artificial bright light has gained popularity in recent years especially to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder in the fall and winter seasons as it gets dark earlier. Even though it does not substitute sunlight it can be used as an additional source in places that do not get enough sun exposure. Therefore, sitting about 12 inches away for up to 30 minutes and doing an activity such as reading or writing can help regulate your circadian rhythms.
The transition to and from daylight saving time can impact each individual very differently, but being aware of the potential impacts can help you take proactive steps to mitigate them. There are various ways you can manage the transition smoothly but if you have faced challenges before while adapting, it might be helpful to consult your healthcare provider to discuss a better way to manage it based on your health.