Nearly a quarter of the world’s population observes daylight saving time or DST for short. While this may be good for some businesses and industries, it can wreak havoc on the human body. The small shift in clocks can lead to a host of other physical effects that will be discussed in this article.
There are a number of effects imposed on the human body by daylight savings, and they all revolve around the body’s circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms of the body control hormone production, sleep-wake cycles and mood.
There are multiple rhythms controlled by a “master clock” of nerve cells in the hypothalamus of the brain, near where the optic nerves cross and enter the brain, which is why daylight is so important to the body. Changing clocks assigns a different time to the light cues that the body needs, meaning that people can experience problems with vital hormone production and their sleep cycles can be affected.
Sleep problems are the most widely felt effect of daylight savings. Though it seems to be more of a problem in the spring when clocks are turned forward, and people essentially lose an hour from their day, some problems can occur in the fall when clocks are turned back. The problem tends to come in the form of falling asleep on time, instead of problems getting up on time, as is the case with the “spring forward” change. Problems falling asleep can turn into insomnia and sleep inertia, which can lead to a host of other health issues. Those who already have sleep problems, such as insomnia or delayed sleep phase syndrome for instance, may experience more problems with the DST change.
It’s generally easier for most people to “fall back” because most sleep through the time change. The change occurs at 2am on Sunday, so most Americans, who are notoriously sleep deprived anyway, just enjoy the extra hour of sleep.
It’s easier to tolerate the change in the fall because the body simply gets sleepier earlier and most experts would tell people to just go to bed when they feel sleepy. Of course, people can force themselves to stay up until their normal bedtime, but then they run the risk of getting their “second wind” and being awake for several more hours. Most people find that it’s easier to listen to their body during the transition period instead of trying to stick to a set time to sleep.
In fact it may be. Swedish researchers have discovered that there is an increase in the number of heart attacks immediately following the time shift. Though the researchers acknowledge that further study is needed, they say that vulnerable individuals should avoid sudden shifts in circadian rhythms. This includes those with sleep problems.
The study found that within 24 hours of the time change, there was a spike in the number of heart attacks, and that men were more affected by this phenomenon. This is different from the “spring forward” period, where the spike lasted longer and affected more women. It was also seen more in those under 65, instead those over 65. The study theorized that the increase in heart attacks was likely due to the negative effects of sleep disturbances on cardiac health.
Many people experience a number of different problems around the time when clocks are changed. Things such as aching joints, colds and flu, and feelings of depression commonly appear around the same time. But are these problems related to changing the clocks or is it something else?
It could be the shift in circadian rhythms, but it could also be the cold, grey days that often come with the time change. Less daylight, cold and sometimes snowy weather leads to people spending more time indoors. That’s more time in confined spaces away from sunlight, which allows cold and flu germs to spread more easily and the lack of sunlight can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D, which can make bones and joints ache. In addition, a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can give people feelings of depression and is closely related to the decrease in sunlight, which daylight savings “fall back” can play a part in.
In order to reduce some of these symptoms, people should try and spend at least 10 minutes per day outside in the sunshine. This will increase vitamin D levels and relieve achiness as well as help with SAD. Frequent hand washing can reduce the spread of cold and flu germs, and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern, by sleeping and waking at the same time every day, can reduce feelings of fatigue and help balance hormone levels to further relieve SAD.
The time change from daylight savings can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these tips, the change will come and go with less stress, and that’s something that’s good for everyone.