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Education: The Health Risks of Daylight Saving Time

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Getting and staying asleep is a real struggle for many of us. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, which can be hard enough, but then comes spring and fall time changes that can disrupt our sleep schedule and have a negative effect on the quality of our sleep.

In this article, we will explore Daylight Saving Time and sleep, and what we can do to optimize our circadian rhythms or sleep/wake cycles.

Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. 

Daylight Saving Time (DST) was first implemented in the United States during World War I, and then again in World War II, as a measure to conserve fuel needed for war efforts by reducing the amount of energy used for lighting and heating. The idea was that extending daylight hours in the evening would reduce the need for artificial lighting, thus saving energy.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 standardized the length and timing of DST in the US, although states could opt out if they chose. The reasoning for DST has evolved over time, but the main arguments for it are economic (more shopping, dining out), recreational (sports and exercise after work), and road safety (more daylight during traffic).

Good Intentions/Big Consequences

Even with the good intentions of the UTA of 1966 we experience a cost to our health and economy when we desynchronize our body clocks twice a year. The annual change from standard time to daylight saving time is associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. There are increased hospital admissions due to atrial fibrillation. There also is an increase in emergency room visits and missed medical appointments. Traffic accidents increase in the first few days after the change from standard time to daylight saving time. The spring and fall time changes also have been associated with mood disturbances and suicide. 

Yikes! Turning this ship around isn’t easy, so if you feel strongly about it or aren’t lucky enough to live in states and territories do not observe daylight saving time: American Samoa, most of Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands you can start by visiting Save Standard Time.

The CLOCK Gene

I think the first time I learned about the CLOCK gene and Dr. Joseph Takahashi’s work my mind was truly blown. His pioneering research on the genetic basis of circadian rhythms in mammals, which has profound implications for our understanding of biological timekeeping. The CLOCK gene plays a critical role in maintaining the body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, and other vital physiological processes.

Dr. Takahashi’s research shows the potential costs of tampering with time and highlights the importance of syncing societal practices like DST with our biological rhythms for optimal health.

Why is Daylight Saving Time Bad for Me?

Light and dark are pretty much the boss when it comes to when we feel ready for the day or ready to hit the sack. We’re wired to be wide awake when the sun’s blasting and to get sleepy when it’s dark out. Our sleep schedule is like a dance that follows the tune of the day and night cycle, and that’s our circadian rhythm doing its thing. When we switch the clocks for daylight saving time, it messes with our rhythm. We end up getting less morning light and more light at night than our bodies are used to. This means we tend to stay up later and might not get enough sleep, leading to a kind of ongoing time lag—kind of like the groggy feeling you get when you travel across time zones. Personally it can take me up to two weeks to recover from these hour shifts, if I don’t take precautions.

Is Daylight Saving Time the Same as Jetlag?

Daylight saving time and jet lag aren’t the same thing. Think of jet lag as the funky feeling you get after a long flight to a place where the time is way different. It’s like your body’s still stuck in your old time zone while the world around you has moved on. The cool thing is, it doesn’t last forever. As you catch the new sunrise and sunset times, your body gets the hint and syncs up with the local time. But with daylight saving time, it’s a whole different kind of weird. Even though we change our clocks, the sun doesn’t get the memo—it keeps doing its usual thing. So you’ve got your body clock, the sun clock, and the new “official” time all clashing, and that can throw you off for a lot longer.

How Light Affects Our Bodies

Tucked away in your eyes are these tiny cells called retinal ganglion cells that are basically the lookouts for light. When they catch light, they’re like, “Wake up!” They do this by telling your brain to pump out cortisol (I know we hear cortisol and we are scared, but this is when it’s supposed to be pumping us up), which is like our bodies’ espresso shot, keeping you sharp and alert. Plus, this whole light show is key for keeping your internal body clock—the circadian rhythm—in check. When these cells soak up light, they tell your body to put the brakes on melatonin, the stuff that makes you want to curl up and snooze.

Dr. Andrew Huberman, has this to say about it: “The big things that manage when you’re up and at ’em or out like a light, and how to snag that sweet, sweet slumber every night, are all about light and the dark.”

That’s why when daylight saving time rolls around and we “spring forward,” it’s a bit of a headache for our zzz’s. We lose a precious hour of sleep and morning light, which can mess with our inner clocks and make catching those 7 to 9 hours so much harder. Research shows this clock flip can screw up our sleep for days or even weeks. It’s recommended to have some tricks up your sleeve to shake off the disruption. Here are some easy tips to make the daylight saving switch smoother and keep you feeling fresh.

Hot Tips to Survive Daylight Saving

Let’s break down the top tips for handling the whole daylight saving time change without turning into a zombie:

  1. Ease into it: Don’t just jump forward an hour and expect to feel great. A few days before the clocks change, go to bed and wake up about 10 to 15 minutes later than usual. It’s like giving your body a little heads up.
  2. Keep it regular: When D-day arrives, stick to your usual routine. Same wake-up time, same bedtime. Keep everything from eating to exercise on your regular schedule.
  3. Nail that bedtime ritual: Treat your sleep like it’s sacred. Skip the late-night Netflix binge or the endless social media scroll. Ease off the late afternoon espresso shots and happy hours, and maybe don’t do your gym routine right before you hit the sheets.
  4. Chase the sun: Get some sun on your face during the day, even if it’s just a quick jaunt while you’re munching on your sandwich at lunch. Sit by a window, or if you’re really missing those rays, give light therapy a whirl. Fun fact: we have a Happy Lite, even though we live in San Diego!
  5. Watch the caffeine: Keep the morning coffee ritual if that’s your jam, but when the afternoon slump hits, don’t go on a coffee bender. And when the PM rolls around, steer clear of anything with a caffeine kick so you can sleep like a champ.

CBD and Sleep

Since CBD is being researched for its pain-relieving and anti-anxiety effects, it goes without saying that it may also support a good night’s sleep. This is because pain and anxiety are often reasons we don’t get the sleep we need. Here’s a couple of more ways CBD might support healthy sleep patterns.

  1. Circadian Rhythm Influence: CBD may have the ability to modulate circadian rhythms, which are the natural, internal processes that regulate the sleep-wake cycle and repeat roughly every 24 hours. If CBD can help synchronize this cycle, it may assist in establishing a more consistent pattern of wakefulness during the day and sleepiness at night.
  2. Endocannabinoid System Balance: The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in maintaining bodily homeostasis, including the regulation of sleep. CBD interacts with the ECS by affecting the activity of cannabinoids and the receptors they bind to. By potentially restoring balance to the ECS, CBD could help promote deeper and more restorative sleep.

It’s important to recognize that while these effects are a subject of ongoing research, the evidence is not yet conclusive. As CBD is further studied, we will gain a clearer understanding of how it affects sleep and whether it can be consistently used as a therapeutic agent for sleep improvement. It’s also worth noting that individual responses to CBD can vary widely, so what works for one person may not work for another. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if it’s intended to address specific health concerns like pain, anxiety, or sleep disorders.

Conclusion

Daylight Saving Time’s impact on our sleep and health is non-negligible, with evidence linking it to various health concerns. While its original intent was to save energy, the toll on our circadian rhythms suggests a need to reconsider its value. As we juggle the biannual clock changes, adopting gradual sleep adjustments and staying informed about sleep hygiene can help mitigate negative effects. Ultimately, reevaluating and potentially redefining our relationship with DST may lead to healthier, more aligned natural sleep patterns.

If you would like to read more about CBD and Sleep we wrote about it here.

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