image of person smiling in sunshine

Long before Ben Franklin first mused on the idea of changing the clocks to save candles, light has been a leading influence on our sleep quality.  Therefore it may come as no surprise that our retinas actually have light-sensitive cells which help our brain set our sleep patterns.

Few customs alter our light and sleep patterns as much as Daylight Saving Time (DST). And whether you are for or against DST (many said it’s unnecessary) or you approve of some of the often stated benefits (a drop in crime to name one), our semi-annual shift in time appears like it’s here to stay.

To make sure you’re prepared for the change, here are several areas to look out for during the fall-back or spring-forward.

How Daylight Saving Time originated

First, it’s useful to understand the origins of this unusual practice.  DST was first implemented Uniform Time Act and standardized the start and end dates for DST that the routine we know today became formally recognized in peacetime.

How DST affects your circadian rhythm

Our bodies love routines.  In fact, our body’s inner clock basically runs off a 24-hour routine known as our circadian rhythm.  This helps explain why you might feel a little sluggish the following day if you stay up way past your usual bedtime.

DST doesn’t do us any favors in respect to our circadian rhythm.  But, on the flip side, we do have the advantage of knowing when it will occur.  Just as you should always take great care with your sleep routine, it is especially true leading up to DST.  This might mean adjusting your bedtime in the days prior to DST, pushing yourself to exercise a little longer than normal, and embracing an extra healthy diet so that your body can take the change in stride.

On the back end, stay vigilant.  A review in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews by Dr. Yvonne Harrison, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in England, revealed that the one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can affect sleep for up to a week.  Moreover, it has been found to be particularly hard on the people who sleep under 7.5 hours a night and early risers.

We know DST affects our sleep, but we still learning how exactly.  A survey by American Time Use showed that people wake up earlier in the morning and sleep about 20 minutes less at night once DST kicks in.  Sleep loss has well-documented effects and one study recorded a 6% increase in car accidents for nearly a week after springing forward.

Wellness and DST

DST can also impact our sleep wellness and mood.  A 2016 study published in the journal Epidemiology found that depression diagnoses actually increase in the month following the shift back to standard time (in the fall; no increase or decrease was associated with the spring).  Sandhya Kumar, MD, assistant professor of neurology and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, has spoken about the connection with daylight and mood and recommends making an effort to spend time outside during daylight hours — a lunch walk perhaps?

Lastly, the time shift can also have ramifications on our productivity.  A 2012 report in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed an increase in “cyberloafing” where people toil around on the computer instead of working.

So while the hour shift may seem insignificant, it actually has a longer and more expansive reach than you’d imagine.  But as long as you’re aware of it and stay vigilant after the change, your internal clock should catch up with your digital one in no time.

Don't let the time change ruin your sleep. Here are 14 things you can do right now to get better sleep tonight.

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