Twice a year people across 70 countries change their clocks. In the U.S., on the second Sunday of March, we move our clocks one hour ahead and repeat the mantra, “Spring forward, fall back.” This year daylight saving time (DST) will start at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12. In November, we turn clocks back one hour for standard time. This back-and-forth time change is disruptive both mentally and physically, say experts, so now is the time to start preparing our bodies for the potentially traumatic shift.
According to The New York Times, even by moving one hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, you are disrupting your circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that is governed by your body’s internal clock.
“This mismatch in our biological clock and our environment leads to a number of non-optimal situations in our health,” says Joseph Takahashi, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who has studied circadian rhythms for decades. Not only does switching to DST disrupt our sleep, it also leads to more car accidents, heart attacks, and ischemic strokes.
While the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and other experts urge against permanent DST, the Sunshine Protect Act was reintroduced to the Senate last week by Senator Marco Rubio, in an effort to end the practice of turning back the clocks one hour to standard time each November and making DST permanent. The Senate passed the bill unanimously last March, but it died in the House at the end of the last session.
“This ritual of changing time twice a year is stupid,” says Rubio, who says that “locking the clock” has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support. Many factions vote for permanent standard time. According to a report, the AASM said the U.S. should eliminate daylight saving time and stick to a year-round standard time.
There are several reasons for the AASM stance. Sleep is critical for health and disrupting our natural sleep cycle can trigger depression, mood swings, and even an increased risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes. A report published in 2019 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that the risk of heart attacks was higher in the weeks following both the spring and fall time transitions among the 100,000 people surveyed.
“There’s really no reason we should continue to do this back and forth,” said Dr. Erin Flynn-Evans, of the NASA Ames Research Center Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory and a consultant to the AASM’s Public Safety Committee. “The negative health consequences and the negative effect on multivehicular crashes in the spring are just not worth it.”
But whatever your stance on DST versus standard time, having good sleep habits before the time change can help you weather the shift, says Dr. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution. Here are some tips:
• Shift your bedtime by 15 minutes each day leading up to DST. If your normal bedtime is 10 p.m.., the goal is to reach your new bedtime of 9 p.m. by the Saturday night before DST starts. This means shifting your habits, too, says The New York Times. Finish your evening meal two hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine for at least six hours before you go to bed. Drinking alcohol before bedtime can also disrupt your sleep.
• Consider relaxation techniques. According to the Sleep Foundation, deep breathing and mindfulness techniques are important year-round, but especially in the week before the time change. These methods can bring calm to your mind and body and make it easier to smoothly transition into sleep.
• Set the clocks forward before you go to bed. Although the time change doesn’t officially occur before 2 a.m., set your watch and household clocks to the new time before you go to bed if they don’t adjust automatically.
• Prioritize sun exposure. On the Sunday of the time change, plan to spend time outside to help your body’s internal clock adjust to the new timing of light and dark.
• Keep your schedule light. Try not to overload your schedule Sunday and Monday in case you experience daytime sleepiness. It’s also best to avoid long drives right after the time change because of the potential dangers of drowsy driving.
• Take a short nap, if necessary. If you grapple with significant daytime sleepiness in the days after switching to DST, a short, 30-minute nap may be helpful, says the Sleep Foundation. Naps are best in the early afternoon when people experience a dip in wakefulness. Avoid late afternoon naps that can further disrupt your sleep schedule.
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