Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday, March 13, at 2 in the morning. For many of us, running around the house and resetting the time on our clocks—springing forward one hour—is a harbinger of longer, sunnier days to come.
And so it can be. But for many of us, the switch to Daylight Saving Time can upset our finely tuned internal clocks, resulting in a day or two of sluggishness at the least, and potentially longer—and even increase risks to health and safety.
Fortunately, the more dire consequences are unlikely. What’s more, you can ward off or reduce some of the minor near-term consequences of this momentary wrinkle in time.
We spoke with Ganesan Murali, MD, medical director of the Einstein Sleep Center, for some insights and tips.
Q. How does Daylight Saving Time, with the loss of one hour, affect the body?
Dr. Murali: A lot of experts bring up Winston Churchill. The way he perceived it was an extra yawn in springtime and an extra snooze in autumn. But Daylight Saving Time can affect our daytime functioning. The “clock” is set in the brain. With Daylight Saving Time, we are artificially changing it. Humans need at least seven or eight hours of sleep for good functioning.
Q. What does that mean in terms of health effects?
Dr. Murali: Sleep disturbances can affect work performance, and attentiveness while driving. It definitely doesn’t affect everybody, but some people can be impaired for days and weeks until the body finally adjusts. There have also been some research studies that suggest there is a slight increase in myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the week after Daylight Saving Time. It’s associated with stress. Returning to work on Monday along with sleep deprivation puts the heart at stress.
The “clock” is set in the brain. With Daylight Saving Time, we are artificially changing it.
Q. Does the change in exposure to light have anything to do with this change in the internal clock?
Dr. Murali: Exposure to light shuts off melatonin (a hormone). Melatonin is produced when it’s really dark. With the change in the exposure to daylight, that resets the melatonin timing. That’s possibly contributing to sleepiness.
(Ganesan Murali, MD, right)
Q. Are any particular people more prone to fatigue as a result of the loss of one hour of sleep?
Dr. Murali: It's going to be more pronounced in people who are already sleep-deprived. If they have poor sleep hygiene to begin with, certainly there's another reduction to their sleep time. They’re probably going to have extra sleepiness. If they’re night workers, it can be a little more chaotic.
Q. What can people do to ease the transition to Daylight Saving Time?
Dr. Murali: You have to start preparing yourselves a few days prior. Go to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier, and then try to wake up 15 minutes or so earlier in the morning. We should probably set our clocks back before the actual Sunday night so we can get used to it for a day or two. The other thing is, eating an hour or so earlier. If you eat at 7, for example, make it 6.
Standard good sleep habits should be followed. We should keep our electronics away from us at night. We should avoid naps after work, particularly this week. Be well hydrated and do reasonable exercise—not close to nighttime, but a little earlier. Avoid caffeinated beverages, and cut down on alcohol. Use the bedroom primarily for sleep rather than work, eating or watching TV.
People have used melatonin for jet lag. (The shift in time is said to produce effects similar to jet lag.) There’s not a lot of work done on this, but you could take two or three melatonin tablets for two or three days prior to Daylight Saving Time. Check with your doctor first.