One hour of “sleep loss” may not seem like a lot but to a marginally sleep-deprived population, this extra hour lost may have noticeable consequences. The controversial century-old tradition of daylight savings is observed in most of the United States and begins at 2 am local time on the second Sunday in March when the clock springs forward an hour, and ends at 2 am local time on the first Sunday in November when clocks fall back an hour. As we prepare to alter our routines and schedules on command, it is important to understand the far-reaching effect of these schedule alterations on our health and well-being, and the steps necessary to mitigate them.
The idea behind the clock shift is to maximize sunlight by providing an added hour of sunlight at the end of the work day. Many of us welcome this change due to the coordinated availability of daylight after work with a boost to our evening activities, including sports and other recreational events. Arguments against daylight savings largely result from the accompanying sleep deprivation in the spring forward as the “lost hour” comes disproportionately from resting hours. With less rest, people tend to make more mistakes that could result in increased traffic accidents, workplace injuries and overall reduction in productivity.
Following the spring forward, our body clock, called circadian rhythm, is temporarily thrown off-course relative to the external/social clock. The early morning darkness that accompanies the extra hour of sunlight in the evening may mean that our body may not be as ready to wake up when our alarm goes off. This absence of early morning light which aids the activation of brain regions that stimulate alertness and energy may make it harder for us to get going in the morning. This is unlike jet lag or travelling to a new time zone where you are exposed to a new natural light-dark cycle. Typically, adjustment to the new time schedule following the clock shift should occur within a few days.
Irrespective of one’s opinions about this enforced shift, it is important to be aware of strategies to minimize the inevitable sleep loss that accompanies our spring forward:
- An earlier bedtime (15-30 minutes earlier) is recommended in the days leading up to the spring forward, or the night before at a minimum to offset some of the accompanying sleep loss.
- Avoid artificial light, specifically from electronic screens within two hours of bedtime.
- Seek light exposure on awakening to reset your circadian rhythm using either natural sunlight (if available), a dawn stimulator or a light box.
- Maintain the same sleep schedule as much as possible.
Remember, a good night’s rest is a key ingredient in both physical and mental well-being. For more information about sleep medicine and disorders, or to inquire about a sleep study, please call the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center at 850-431-4400 or visit TMH.ORG/Sleep.