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Daylight Saving Time Affects Us More Than We Think

11/04/2015 02:28 EST | Updated 11/04/2016 05:12 EDT
John Lamb via Getty Images
Man reaching for alarm clock from bed.

We do it twice a year without giving it too much thought. Come spring, we turn our clocks by one hour forward, in autumn we dial them back again. It's called daylight saving time, and it affects about 1.5 billion people around the globe. For the vast majority no particular problems arise from this, but time changes do affect everyone who is exposed to them in more or less noticeable ways.

Those who travel across multiple time zones, of course, are intimately familiar with the phenomenon called "jet lag." Flying to and from places located in different parts of the world can cause confusion to our biological clock,also known ascircadian rhythm.

Individual responses may differ, but sleep disturbance, tiredness, mood swings, lack of focus and eating disorders are among the most common reactions. Similar, although perhaps less severe, symptoms can also occur in the aftermath of daylight saving time changes.

For most people, the adjustment period to a one-hour time difference is about a week, according to studies by researchers at Harvard University. The problem is that the transition is not always as smooth and seamless as we may think.

For instance, in the fall, when the clocks are turned back, which should give us a little extra rest, many people keep waking up earlier and/or have trouble falling asleep at their usual bedtime. In the spring, the loss of an hour may aggravate these effects even more.

We shouldn't simply ignore the impact that even relatively small differences like daylight saving can have on our sleep and related behaviours, says Dr. Yvonne Harrison who lectures on the subject at Liverpool John Moores University in England. Her research, she says, suggests that even minor sleep disruptions can have a cumulative effect, which can result in sleep loss for extended periods of time.

Persistent sleep disturbances can also lead to more serious health problems, experts warn. One study from Sweden registered a spike in heart attacks occurring shortly after spring daylight saving time changes, while a slight decrease could be observed in the fall.

Chronic sleep deprivation and insomnia are on the rise worldwide, especially in cultures where busy work schedules and hectic lifestyles are common. The costs in terms of health problems and productivity loss are staggering.

There may not always be easy solutions available when it comes to workloads and other demands in daily life, however, in terms of sleep hygiene, there is much we can do to make improvements by ourselves. How much sleep someone needs, of course, can vary, but experts say that on average seven to eight hours per night should suffice for most adults.

Besides quantity, the quality of sleep is equally as important. There are numerous ways to go about improving your rest, such as timing, creating a sleep-conducive environment, or inventing some special tricks to establish sleeping habits that work for you.

Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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