When Benjamin Franklin first had the idea for a "daylight saving time" (or DST) back in 1784, he probably didn't quite realize the detrimental, long term effects it would have on human health and sleep cycles.
Here's the deal:
Recent studies at Vanderbilt University show that the effects of one-hour fluctuation of DST have on the body are long-lasting.
In other words:
Even if we feel we’re adjusting fine, that one hour puts our biological clocks out of whack for an average of eight months out of the year, which can have adverse effects on our health in many ways.
The data of the studies point to a correlation between the seasonal transitions of DST and increases of ischemic stroke and heart attack.
Another (not surprising) negative by-product of the unnatural adjustment in sleep during DST is an increase in traffic accidents and fatal work injuries.
For adults, the average duration of sleep reduces by 15-20 minutes during DST, leaving us vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation on motor function.
The extra hour of darkness first thing in the morning during many morning commutes doesn't help, either...
Many scientists, behavioral health professionals, and members of The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms are lobbying to eliminate DST all together because of the adverse effects on our health.
Until then, the professionals at VUMC say there are a few things we can do to try to adapt as seamlessly as possible to those changes in our natural sleep cycles:
"Bank" your sleep
Getting in some extra ZZZ's before the onset of DST may do a lot to help us adjust. "It's really important to go into the time change without being significantly sleep-deprived," says Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center specialist Kelly Brown, MD. She suggests taking a cat nap for an hour or less a day and going to bed 15 minutes earlier on the nights leading up to the time change.
Don't sleep in more than usual
Sleeping in over the weekend may feel good, but come Monday morning when you have to get back to your regular hours, your body will be struggling. Again, a cat nap on a Sunday afternoon of no more than an hour should help get you back on track.
Temporarily change your eating habits
The weekend before DST hits, eat earlier than usual for both breakfast and dinner.
Don't indulge in alcohol and caffeine in the evening
This is a best practice any time, but especially during the adjustment of DST.
Adjust your lighting
Keep the lights low in the early evening leading up to the time change. Also a best practice - keep your screen out of your face before bedtime! The bright lights in the evenings can have adverse effects on circadian rhythms.
The bottom line?
For now, DST is a reality of life, just something for us to adjust to and cope with. In the meantime, with a little preparation and planning, we can try to make a healthier transition and reduce the adverse effects of sleep deprivation.
Sweet dreams and healthy days!