Daylight Savings: Changing Your (Body) Clock

November 04, 2016

Every six months, Americans (except those residing in Arizona and Hawaii) fumble through the ritual of adjusting their timepieces to mark either the start or the finish of Daylight Savings Time (DST).

Though it has become infinitely easier to make the change now that most computers and smart phone clocks are programmed to adjust automatically, your body might need a bit more time.

Technically speaking, your circadian rhythm, or body clock, make take a few days after “fall back” or “spring forward” to get used to the “new time.”

“Your circadian rhythm is the internal biological clock that regulates body functions based on our wake/sleep cycle, said Setu Vora, Backus Hospital pulmonologist and sleep specialist. “It is hormonally based, and influenced by environmental cues, such as light or bedroom temperature.”

So how does the time change affect your body?

“For up to a week after the time change, one’s sleeping patterns may be disrupted,” said Dr. Vora. “You may find yourself tossing and turning, unable to sleep right away, or you may feel more fatigued when the alarm goes off.”

Although for most the temporary sleep disturbance is merely annoying, for some it can lead to serious consequences, says research health scientist Claire Caruso, Ph.D., RN, for the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

“Sleep deprivation and reduction in performance can lead to increasing the risk for mistakes including vehicle crashes. A 2013 study found that workers can experience somewhat higher risks to their health and safety after the time changes. Another study from 2015 by Kirchberger and colleagues reported that men in general and anyone with heart disease may be at higher risk for a heart attack during the week after the time changes in the spring and fall.”

Good sleep practice year round is key to making the DST transitions a bit easier, according to Dr. Vora.

“Follow a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up, no Smart phone in bed, no electronics or TV in bedroom.”

The American Society of Sleep Medicine has additional tips for successfully moving toward the autumn time change:

  • Begin to adjust the timing of your daily routines that are “time cues” for your body.  For example, start eating dinner a little later each night.
  • On Saturday night, set your clocks back one hour, then go to sleep at your normal bedtime.
  • Go outside for some early morning sunlight on Sunday.  The bright light will help set your “body clock,” which regulates sleep and alertness.
  • Be careful when driving or operating machinery if you feel drowsy.
  • Stay as close to your bedtime on Sunday night to get plenty of sleep before the workweek begins.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, the Hartford HealthCare Sleep Medicine Department can help.