It’s time to spring forward. The loss of a single hour of sleep makes everyone grumpy and throws off our internal clocks. But how much of an impact does one hour really have on us? Turns out, more than you may realize.
"Around the start of daylight saving time (DST), there is an increase in motor vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and strokes," says Kelly Baron, PhD, DBSM, a sleep specialist at University of Utah Health’s Sleep-Wake Center. "It has an impact on the population's health from this loss of sleep."
Sleep experts like Baron prefer to stay in standard time year-round. While it may seem like an unpopular opinion, the days would still be in fact long if we continued in standard time.
“The problem in DST is that we’re losing morning light for more evening light,” Baron says. “If we were to stay in DST year-round, there are times [here in Utah] where it would still be dark at 9:00 am.”
While many look forward to more sunlight later in the day, the interruption to our sleep schedule can impact our health and disrupt our communities. Here’s why.
It’s hard on our bodies
It’s easier to stay up late than to get up early, which makes springing forward more difficult than falling back.
"Your body in general can't shift earlier one hour at a time—it takes a few days,” Baron says. “Our circadian rhythm is slightly longer than 24 hours, so we’re more inclined to stay up later.”
Baron explains that there’s a misalignment between the internal rhythm and the external time during this shift. While it’s fairly easy to stay up later, it’s harder for us to fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier. “It’s basically creating a jet lag scenario, which usually takes two to three days to improve,” she says.
The fact the time change happens on a weekend may exacerbate the impacts of the loss of the hour. While you may think it's a good thing you can sleep in to try and make it up, it may actually just make things worse.
Instead, you should try to prepare for the time change in the days leading up to it by adjusting your sleep schedule by 10 or 15 minutes every day. Then, by the time you "spring ahead" an hour, you are already on track.
If you’re feeling groggy in the morning, get some sun. Sunlight helps advance your sleep rhythm.
It's hard on kids
Parents have the added task of getting kids used to the time change. If your child is more cranky or irritable around this time, they could be sleep deprived. “The changing of one hour in a day is pretty abrupt,” Baron says. “It’s hard to make that big of a biological shift in a day.” You can help your child by gradually adjusting their bedtime 15 minutes earlier in the days leading up to the time change.
To get yourself and your child ready for bed, it also helps to reduce your light exposure in the evenings by:
- Coming inside at least one hour to 90 minutes before bedtime
- Dimming the lights inside your home
- Using shades or blackout curtains
- Dimming and turning off electronics
It's hardest on teens
Daylight saving time is especially hard on teenagers who may already be struggling to get the amount of sleep they need. While you are pre-shifting your sleep schedule, it's a good idea to shift theirs as well.
"Children and adolescents need more sleep than adults," Baron says. "Teens especially have a phase shift in their internal rhythm, so they are naturally going to want to stay up later.”
If you take away another hour of sleep, it is more difficult for them to get up. Grogginess can impact a teen’s attention span at school and increase their risk of depression or being involved in a car accident, according to Baron.
Keep in mind
Since daylight saving time will have you thinking about sleep, this is a great time to assess your overall sleep health. Do you know how many hours of sleep you get at night? Have you thought about your sleep quality? What changes could you make to improve your sleep?
“It’s just a general reminder that even losing as little as one hour of sleep can have an impact on your health,” Baron says. “On the flip side, increasing your sleep by as little 30 minutes can make an improvement on your health and quality of life."