How to Beat the Negative Health Effects of Daylight Savings Time?

The “setback” of daylight saving time is linked to an increase in car accidents and low mood, but doctors say careful attention to sleep hygiene and a gradual adjustment of your bedtime can help.

As clocks across America “fall back” an hour at 2 a.m. on Nov. 6, internal clocks may lag.

“Changes, even minor ones, in your sleep can affect almost every part of your body, from your skin to your cardiovascular system,” says Dr. Marri Horvat of the Cleveland Sleep Disorders Clinic.

Daylight saving time is less tuned to our natural circadian rhythm. The sun rises later and the light lasts longer in the evening, but our bodies are more attuned to light in the morning and darkness in the evening. Each switch changes the sleep pattern abruptly.

The good news, doctors say, is that the upcoming change from daylight saving time to standard time is less damaging to your health than the spring switch, mainly because you get an hour of sleep. The bad news is that either switch can negatively impact your health.

Researchers estimate that the transition to and from daylight saving time contributes to thousands of car accidents and 300 deaths each year. Meanwhile, researchers who have studied the trap switch specifically say it is linked to an 11% increase in depressive episodes. Interestingly, doctors report that while the spring switch has been linked to a 24% increase in heart attacks the day after, the fall switch has been linked to a 21% decrease in heart attacks. The benefit may lie in the extra hour of sleep gained with the fall switch.

The concept of daylight saving time is depicted in a stock photo.

Eric Audras/Getty Images/Onoky

What can you do to sleep better?

Sleep specialists say it’s a good idea to establish a nighttime routine before and after the switch. Horvat recommends “making the shift slow over several days” by “going to bed every day and waking up 10 to 15 minutes later.” Ideally, this routine should include a “tapering” period of at least an hour before bed, when you stop screen time, turn down the thermostat (between 60-75 degrees) and do a relaxing activity. The best relaxation technique before bedtime is listening to soothing music.

Another tip is to exercise outside. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise throughout the day, as long as it is at least two to four hours before bedtime, increases the quality and duration of sleep. Exercising outside is also recommended, as natural sunlight during the day can help with the transition.

According to doctors, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening can also help, and it’s best to avoid snacks right before bed.

While naps can’t replace a good night’s sleep, supplementing it can help. Even a five-minute nap shows improved attention and short-term memory.

“Healthy sleep starts with posture and awareness,” says Dr. Emerson Wickwire, director of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Reserve 7.5 or 8 hours to sleep and enjoy!”

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