Switch Your Clocks; Stay Aware of Your Health

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If people seem a bit more salty Sunday, it could be because springing ahead to Daylight Savings Time (DST) has cost them more than just an hour of sleep. 

But first, don’t blame the farmers for the hour hopping. It was Congress. In 1966, it passed the Uniform Time Act making Daylight Savings Time the law of the land with an opt out that only Hawaii and most of Arizona took.  

Since then, governments across the globe have discussed scrapping the twice yearly time transition; to no avail. [They must have run out of time to make a decision.] Recently, a group of U.S. Senators introduced legislation that would end the time change and make DST permanent.

If passed, the bill will do more than just reclaim an hour of daylight. It will help our health.

“The biggest effect Daylight Savings Time can have on us is the disruption of our circadian rhythm,” Nicole M. Avena, PhD., an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Medical Daily in an email. “We may only be “springing” forward an hour, but this time change can impact our sleep cycle.”   

Darker mornings can leave us feeling tired even when we wake up at our usual time. Conversely, sunlight later into the evening can make us more awake. And that lost hour of sleep has been linked to an increase in traffic accidents and suicides, Dr. Avena wrote. It can also affect our immune system.

“The immune system contains many inflammatory regulators that help our bodies respond to infection and other pathogens,” wrote Dr. Avena, also a visiting professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University. “The circadian clock functions as a kind of sensor for the immune system. If our circadian rhythm is disrupted, there can be excessive inflammation in the body.”

So how can we best offset the effects of the time shift? Most sleep experts, Dr. Avena wrote, suggest that as the time-change approaches, people should wake up 10 to 15 minutes earlier each morning until they are waking up about an hour earlier than usual. Keep a consistent sleep schedule, sleep in a dark room, and don’t eat, drink caffeine or alcohol late at night.

Also, ditch your electronics well before going to bed. A small survey by Sleep Junkie, a sleep science and review website, found that people who turned off their electronics two hours before going to bed had slept better than people who watched television or listened to music or a podcast before nodding off. 

“Creating a good sleep environment will help you keep your routine,” Dr. Avena said. “If you are having trouble falling to sleep, you may want to consider a supplement like melatonin, which naturally rises in our bodies before we fall asleep.”

Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist and book author who has written extensively about health and medicine. His work has appeared in national and regional magazines and newspapers.

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