Getting an hour back on the Sunday following the end of daylight saving time may feel like a bonus to your weekend. But this seemingly positive change can impact your body in ways you might not expect.
“The human body operates with a natural 24-hour internal clock, which is our circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Cynthia Fisher, a Family Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh. “Changes in exposure to light and your sleep schedule can throw it off.”
That means the time change can negatively affect your concentration, attention, and ability to get quality sleep, Dr. Fisher says.
Those effects can have impacts beyond just feeling a little bit off. They can also lead to behavioral changes, including increased alcohol use and the temptation to stay out later on the Saturday night before the time change.
Importance of Sleep
“Sleep is a valuable mechanism in keeping our bodies and minds functioning well. It helps us recharge and stay healthy,” Dr. Fisher says. “We need to value sleep and maintain it as an important factor in our health, just as we do our nutrition or exercise.”
Ideally, you should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. For the upcoming time change, you can help your body adjust by going to bed about 10 minutes later each day in the week leading up to the end of daylight saving time.
The time change also impacts infants and small children. It’s important to begin to adjust eating and sleeping schedules a few days before the time switch to make the process less difficult for young ones and their caregivers.
Other ways both children and adults can help their bodies adjust to the time change include:
- Slightly modifying the times of other regular daily activities to help your body’s circadian rhythm adjust. Eat dinner a little later, for example.
- Staying well-rested and ensuring you get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.
- Limiting screen time at night. Put down your tablet, phone, and laptop for at least the last hour before bed.
- Setting your clock back early in the evening and going to bed at the regular time the Saturday night before the time change.
- Going outside for sunlight and exercise on the Sunday after the time change.
Most people should adjust to the time change within about a week Dr. Fisher says.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Some people may experience greater impacts at the onset of the time change. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also known as seasonal depression, can begin at this time of year as the hours of daylight diminish. People who have bipolar disorder may be more susceptible to experiencing seasonal affective disorder, Dr. Fisher says.
Some symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling consistently tired, listless, unmotivated, or without energy most of the day
- Losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Weight gain and cravings for carbohydrates
- Difficulty concentrating
There are treatments for SAD. These include phototherapy, which involves using a light box for a small amount of time each day. Medication or counseling can be options as well.
“It’s natural to have days where you feel down or less motivated,” Dr. Fisher says. “If those feelings begin to disrupt your activities or your ability to get through the day, it’s time to talk to your provider about it.”