(NEW YORK) — The beginning of daylight saving time marks the arrival of spring every year. For some, the time difference can cause feelings of fatigue or more serious health symptoms.
First proposed over 200 years ago as an economical suggestion to maximize daylight hours and conserve candles, we continue to “spring forward” with one 23-hour day to transition our clocks.
According to the American Heart Association, in addition to the fatigue, the transition can also affect your heart and brain. Hospital admissions for an irregular heartbeat pattern known as atrial fibrillation, as well as heart attacks and strokes, increase in the first few days of daylight saving time.
“Daylight saving time feels kind of like jetlag from traveling across time zones,” said Dr. Angela Holliday-Bell, a pediatrician and certified clinical sleep specialist.
“Your body needs time to readjust to a new light/dark cycle, so it can be hard on the body and hard on sleep,” Holliday-Bell said.
This cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm, is a fine-tuned system that our bodies use to regulate time, she said. For most people, that cycle is about 24 hours and 15 minutes.
“It dictates all the processes that occur in your body — including sleep, wake and digestion,” said Holliday-Bell. Even the immune system is controlled by your circadian rhythm, meaning “when you lose an hour, you’re losing some immune function as well,” she explains.
Sleep deprivation can also slow the executive function of the brain, which explains the increase in car accidents seen with the time transition of daylight savings. Mood can suffer too.
Experts agree that there are several strategies to prepare your body all year round and for the days leading up to daylight savings time.
Start to wind down earlier in the evening.
Even for a few days, adjusting your sleep-wake cycle can help you feel more well-rested. Try moving your bedtime up in fifteen minute increments in the days before the clock sets back, until you’ve reached the one hour you’ll lose on Sunday.
Maximize natural light.
“Light is the strongest influence on circadian rhythms,” says Dr. Holliday Bell. “Getting natural light as soon as you can when you first wake up helps to reinforce your circadian rhythm.”
The extra coffee might feel necessary to get through the fatigue, but too much caffeine is not heart healthy. It also lasts in the body for a long time, which can affect the ability to fall asleep or sleep restfully in the evening.
Gradual lifestyle improvements all year long and a concerted effort in the days leading up to the transition can help to soften the disruption to your circadian rhythm, so you can save daylight without losing anything else.
Chidimma J. Acholonu is a pediatric resident physician at the University of Chicago and a contributor to the ABC Medical Unit.
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