Understanding and Surviving the March Time Change
Daylight savings time begins at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 13, 2022. Originally the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, daylight savings time was adopted in 1966 to conserve energy — meaning electricity. Our energy tends to be depleted during the transition, because setting our clocks forward to “spring ahead” means losing one hour of sleep.
The transition to daylight savings time makes for more than just a rough Monday. Daylight savings time knocks the body’s internal clock out of sync with the natural cycle of light and dark following the sun, with wide-ranging effects from more car crashes to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Setting the clocks forward by just one little hour can have big effects on our bodies. Understanding how to manage the time change transition can go a long way toward setting yourself up for a productive spring.
The Circadian Rhythm: The Body’s Solar-Powered Inner Clock
For tens of thousands of years, human activity was regulated by the sun’s movement and the natural light-dark cycle it creates. Generation upon generation had little choice but to wake up with the sun and go to sleep when the sun set. So fundamental was the rising and setting of the sun to setting the pace of human life that it became a part of us: the natural light-dark cycle became a key component of our body’s internal clock, the 24-hour cycle that you may know as the circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is often associated with sleep cycles or jet lag, but it also governs other critical processes, taking cues from the light cycle to release hormones that control things like appetite and mood at certain times. The body’s internal clock needs to synchronize itself with the natural light-dark cycle to know when to send us those hormonal cues.
Before the 19th century, the natural availability of sunlight had no real competition when it came to sending the inner clock cues. Then, as the Industrial Revolution set in, humanity harnessed the power of electricity to light up the world even when nature got dark. Industrialization created new work patterns, and electricity made it possible to stay active later at night, confusing the inner clock with “social jet lag,” a mismatch between the schedule we impose on our bodies and its natural rhythms. As the years passed, new technology emerged to entertain with light-emitting screens, creating new opportunities for misalignment between our inner clock and the availability of natural light.
Daylight Savings Time Affects the Sleep Cycle
The modern world is hard enough on the body’s inner clock, and abruptly shifting all of our routines by an hour twice a year for daylight savings time certainly doesn’t help. The direct effect of setting the clock forward an hour, thereby adding more darkness than usual in the morning and more light in the evening, is losing sleep and throwing off your sleep cycle.
Daylight savings time also makes it hard to fall asleep at night and hard to be alert in the morning generally. Light suppresses melatonin secretion, and melatonin is key to regulating sleep. When daylight savings time makes less light available in the morning, there’s a delay in the signal telling the body to stop producing melatonin so we can wake up and be alert. And, since it gets dark later at night, the signal to start producing the melatonin that puts us to sleep is delayed, too.
Grogginess results, and grogginess has consequences. On the Monday following the transition to daylight savings time, a nation of sleep-deprived people driving to work in a state of impaired alertness gets into more traffic accidents and experiences more workplace injuries than usual.
Other Health Hazards Linked to Daylight Savings Time
Though its role regulating the sleep cycle gets most of the attention, your life beats to the circadian rhythm’s drum in many other ways too. It influences hunger, metabolism, mood, alertness, and even fertility, with essential functions including hormone production, cell regeneration, brain wave activity, and regulating body temperature. So, on top of making it harder to fall asleep at night and wake up in the mornings, daylight savings time’s effects on our circadian rhythm have broader consequences for how we feel.
Health Hazards Associated With Starting Daylight Savings Time:
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Cluster headaches triggered by changes in circadian rhythm
- Increased risk of heart attack in the first three weekdays following the time change
- Slowed metabolism
- Not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, the hangry-sounding hormone regulating hunger. The resulting increase in appetite can contribute to obesity.
- More people miss doctor’s visits and more people go to the emergency room in the transition to daylight savings time
How to Help Your Body Adjust to Daylight Savings Time
Daylight savings time impacts the body by removing cues we’ve evolved to rely on to start key processes like sleeping, waking up, and digestion. You can help your body adapt to daylight savings time by providing it with other signals to get going and shift its schedule.
Kickstart Your Sleep Cycle
Delayed melatonin production makes it hard to sleep, but you can help your body out by prompting it to start the sleep cycle in other ways.
Set yourself up to get quality sleep by reducing caffeine intake in the hours before going to bed. Keep your bedroom dark, and end your screen time a few hours before bedtime. It might be tough to put the iPad away before bed, but these devices, however entertaining, send the body mixed signals about whether it’s time to sleep or not.
You can also consider taking melatonin supplements to adapt to the time change. Talk to your doctor first to determine the right dosage for you.
Reset Your Inner Clock by Giving It Extra Cues to Wake Up
Waking up can be a struggle under the best of circumstances, and all the more so when our bodies keep producing melatonin when we’re supposed to be up. You can help your body find the cues it needs to regulate your body’s internal clock and get the day started by adjusting the timing of other time-cues for your body.
Transition your body to the time change little by little in the week before daylight savings time by waking up a bit earlier than usual and eating a little earlier each day in the week leading up to daylight savings.
After daylight savings time starts, eat breakfast in the morning to signal to your body that the day is starting, and try to go outside to get some natural light in the morning. If you can soak in your morning sunlight while taking a walk, the exercise provides yet another signal to your body to adjust your internal clock.
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