How to Cope When Daylight Saving Time Starts
Popularized as a way to save fuel by maximizing natural light during World War I and II, daylight saving time (DST), the practice of turning clocks ahead by one hour for several months, is controversial today. One hour may not seem like a big deal, but the transition is a cause of health issues and traffic accidents.
“We think of the clock's change as just changing the hours, but it's about alignment with people’s circadian rhythms,” says Alexandra Brown, MD, a physician with Columbia Primary Care, referring to the body’s 24-hour internal clock. “Deep brain connections are going on here.”
The spring-forward side of the twice-yearly clock change is when negative effects are most severe.
Sleep disorders specialist Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, explains: "The primary regulator of your internal clock is light, and you may get less morning light with this change. When you get up an hour earlier for DST, your body clock is still on standard time (at least at first), leading to more morning grogginess and a minor equivalent of jet lag."
If your body clock is not in line with your sleep cycle, you can be off kilter, mentally and physically. When DST begins, hospital admissions and cardiovascular events, like heart attacks, rise. Studies also show the clock misalignment can cause changes at the cellular level.
Daylight saving time around the world
More than 60% of the world uses standard time year-round, never switching to DST. And every year another country joins that group. In 2019, the European Parliament decided to permanently eliminate DST in the European Union, though the change has been postponed by the pandemic. Other countries are working toward the same goal.
On the other side of the Atlantic—and point of view—some members of U.S. Congress have recently proposed eliminating standard time, pushing to make DST permanent. Current U.S. law allows states to renounce DST (looking at you, Hawaii and Arizona), but abandoning standard time is not allowed. On March 13, 2022, most U.S. states will switch to DST. Standard time resumes Nov. 6, 2022.
How to combat the effects of changing clocks
Wherever you are when a clock change happens, there are ways to minimize the effects. Brown and Bazil advise patients:
- Shift your sleep schedule in advance, by 15 minutes.
- Go to bed and wake up 15 minutes earlier each day for two or three days before the clocks change.
- Avoid light stimulation, like electronic screens, one hour before bedtime.
- Take a walk outside within two hours of waking up, especially if the sun is shining.
- Spend time in the glow of a sunlight-mimicking lamp.
- Lights that mimic outdoor light can help regulate circadian rhythm. Talk to your doctor if your physical or mental health remains off after one week.
- Know how and when to use melatonin.
- As little as 1 mg, one hour before bedtime, tells your brain it’s time to wind down. For DST, use for one week and stop.
- Drink one cup of coffee or tea.
- Caffeine can help with minor symptoms of fatigue in the morning, but not to excess and not at night. “You cannot use caffeine copiously to stay awake,” says Brown. “That works against you.”
Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, is director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and professor of neurology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Alexandra Brown, MD, is a primary care physician specializing in family medicine at Columbia Primary Care and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.