Ongoing Health Effects of Daylight Saving Time

Embellished somewhat by the pandemic, the consequences of daylight saving time go beyond a few restless days.

When daylight saving time (not daylight “savings” time, as it is often referred to) was introduced in the United States slightly more than 100 years ago, it signified a rather patriotic endeavor. The use of coal as an energy source was common in 1918, and so when Congress enacted its first daylight saving law in March of that year during World War I, Americans could say that they impacted the war effort by turning their clocks back an hour for the sake of general energy conservation.
Today, the circumstances are vastly different as we begin our second month since our most recent time change (at least among those states that still acknowledge the shift). There’s no World War that our country is involved in, of course; although the ferocity of our ongoing societal debates related to the COVID-19 pandemic may be leaving us feeling somewhat emotionally battle-worn. We’re also far removed from the reliance of coal as a dominant source of everyday power among residents. Still, another heavily debated topic today whether the usefulness of daylight saving is what it once was, especially when weighing the benefits offered against its consequences, which continue to include various negative impacts on one’s health.

Research continues to show that the sudden disruption of the human “body clock” can be blamed, at least in part, to increases in heart attacks and strokes,1 driving accidents,2 and depression and anxiety3 — whether it be during the springing forward or falling back adjustment. During the current pandemic and the increasing rate of working from home among all industry professionals, the clinical physical and mental health risks are said to be intensified primarily because people are exposed to more artificial light and less sunlight, which is in stark contrast to what is supposed to be an inherent benefit of having more daylight hours aligning with typical working hours, which hampers the sleep-wake cycle and makes falling asleep at night more difficult. Contrary to what is the common perception, the adjustment to the time changes goes well beyond the first couple days in which we may feel excessively sleepy or irritable. “Daylight saving time is not a one-hour change twice a year, but rather an eight-month period where our circadian rhythms are out of sync,” said Chris Norris, a certified sleep specialist based in California. “If not managed properly, the change in sleeping pattern can have long-term effects.” The lack of sunlight can also lead to a drop in vitamin D and the hormone ghrelin, which regulates hunger and can cause an increase in appetite, Norris says. Another long-term effect is a drop in melatonin level, a natural sleep-inducing chemical secreted by our bodies. These are the types of factors that disrupt the body and result in imbalances, as opposed to the common assumption that the transition to a new bedtime and waking time remains the biggest culprit, Norris said. 

Pandemic & Sleep Patterns

The pandemic itself has also been a disrupter of the body’s natural sleep process and is essentially now working in tandem with daylight saving time against the natural ability to sleep among many Americans. Healthcare professionals have been especially prone to complications, according to research recently conducted by Norris and colleagues.4 Among more than 1,000 providers surveyed about their current sleep cycles, one in three said they have been sleeping poorly during the pandemic, with the average amount of sleep per day totaling just five hours among all surveyed. More than 40% of providers said they have experienced some from of insomnia during the pandemic, with a large reason for anxiety and stress being related to fears of bringing the virus home to loved ones.

Beyond healthcare providers, the average American professional is also experiencing sleep difficulties due to the pandemic, specifically as a consequence of full-time (or hybrid) remote working schedules. According to more than 1,000 adults ages 18-73,5 50.2% stated that their sleep patterns are negatively affected by their current work schedules.5 Reasons include the blurring of work/life boundaries, with 55% of people finding it difficult to switch away from their work responsibilities in the evening. Late-night screening has also been a challenge, and technology is well known to be a chronic sleep disrupter in an of itself, pandemics aside.6 The generation witnessing the most impact on sleep patterns currently is Millennial, followed by Generation X and, to a lesser extent, Generation Z and Baby Boomer, Norris has found.

Tips For Sleep Success

A disturbed circadian rhythm also impacts one’s general psychological and mental state, including an inability to focus, Norris said. Providers can encourage their patients to rest as often as time allows to help their bodies adapt to the time change and there are other strategies to implement, including:

  • Committing to a sleep schedule of the same waking time and bed time
  • Avoiding caffeine later in the day
  • Increasing exposure to daylight
  • Exercising during daytime hours
  • Avoiding blue light exposure
  • Replacing old pillows, mattresses, and/or beds
  • Not allowing pets to sleep in your bed

Importantly, Norris advises adopting small changes and not trying to change too much too quickly. Choosing one or two strategies to start and implementing them into one’s daily routine before adding more strategies can be helpful. “The idea is to eventually and slowly start increasing behaviors that can help you sleep while minimizing the things that are interfering with your sleep,” he said.

References

1. Can Daylight Saving Time Hurt The Heart? Prepare Now For Spring. American Heart Association. 2018. Accessed online: www.heart.org/en/news/2018/10/26/can-daylight-saving-time-hurt-the-heart-prepare-now-for-spring
2. Spring Forward To Daylight Saving Time Brings Surge In Fatal Car Crashes: Deadly Accidents Spike 6% In Week After Time change. University of Colorado at Boulder. ScienceDaily. 2020. Accessed online: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200130144410.htm
3. Sugrue A. Daylight Saving Time Makes Us Sadder And Sicker. The GW Hatchet. 2020. Accessed online: www.gwhatchet.com/2020/11/12/daylight-saving-time-makes-us-sadder-and-sicker
4. Healthcare Worker’s Sleep During COVID-19 Pandemic In The U.S. Sleep Standards. 2020. Accessed online: https://sleepstandards.com/healthcare-workers-sleep-covid-19
5. Working From Home During COVID-19 And American Sleep Patterns (2020 Data). Sleep Standards. 2020. Accessed online: https://sleepstandards.com/work-from-home-and-sleep-patterns
6. Technology Use And Sleep Disorders In The U.S. (2020 Data). Sleep Standards. 2020. Accessed online: https://sleepstandards.com/technology-and-sleep-disorders

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