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Rhythm Interrupted: How to Navigate Daylight Saving Time Disruption

Last updated: March 7, 2024

A lot of us know about circadian rhythms but don’t think much about them until they get disrupted. For those of us living in North America, that happens at least twice a year: with the beginning and end of daylight saving time.

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock. They run in the background to carry out essential functions and processes, including appetite, alertness/sleepiness, and body temperature. The sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms, according to the Sleep Foundation. Time changes upset those rhythms.

“The hour gained or lost with daylight saving time shifts may not seem like a big deal, but that small change is enough to prove disruptive for many people,” says Dr. Ashley Thomas, a Family Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Clintonville.

Effects of Daylight Saving Time

This year, we “spring ahead” on March 10. With the beginning of daylight saving time, we’ll move our clocks forward one hour. While many of us feel groggy and crabby with the time shift, the effects of daylight saving time can go deeper.

When we move our clocks forward, we’re going to sleep and rising before our internal clocks are ready for us to do so. The shift can result in disruption that lasts for the duration of daylight saving time. That, in turn, can lead to negative health effects, including an uptick in strokes, heart attacks, stress, and mood disturbances.

Of course, the change can also negatively impact sleep. Poor sleep can lead you to feel fatigued, unfocused, and forgetful. Chronic sleep problems can increase the chance of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers. It can also interfere with mood and mental health as well as daily tasks such as working and driving.

“Your body needs sleep to function correctly,” Dr. Thomas says. “When you consistently don’t get enough sleep, there is a real impact on your health.”

Managing Time Changes

In recent years, there’s been a congressional push to transition to permanent daylight saving time. Because of the adverse health effects of daylight saving time, many experts instead advocate for abolishing daylight saving time in favor of permanent standard time.

Regardless, for now, we must continue to live with the twice-a-year shifts between daylight and standard time. The good news is that you can take steps to minimize the impact of the time change.

  • Begin adjusting your sleep and wake times gradually in the days leading up to the change. Shift your bedtime 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night for a few days before the springtime change. (In the fall, push your bedtime back 15 to 20 minutes to help adjust to standard time.)
  • Slowly adjust other daily routines, such as mealtimes, in the days leading up to the change.
  • On Saturday evening, set your clocks to the new time and go to bed at your regular bedtime.

“Use daylight to help your body adjust,” Dr. Thomas says. “Head outside on Sunday morning and take in the light, and during the evening, dim the lights. This will help reset your internal clock.”

Healthy Sleep Any Time

Not so coincidentally, the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week also kicks off on March 10.  The observance is dedicated to raising awareness about the connection between sleep and health and well-being.

Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each day. To set the stage for a good night’s sleep, no matter the circumstances, follow these National Sleep Foundation-recommended steps.

  • Let the light in. Spend time in bright light during the day.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity promotes healthy sleep. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Follow consistent mealtimes. Eat your meals around the same time each day.
  • Avoid sleep disruptors. Stay away from heavy meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Wind down. Follow a consistent, relaxing pre-bedtime routine.
  • Keep a routine. Go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
  • Mind your environment. Set aside devices an hour before bed, and sleep in a cool, dark, quiet environment.

“When you prioritize your sleep health, you’re likely to also see benefits to your mood and well-being,” Dr. Thomas says.

Discuss sleep needs and challenges at your annual wellness visit.

Tags: circadian rhythms Daylight saving time Sleep Awareness Week sleep health Spring ahead

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