How Changing the Clocks Might Affect Your Health
Christopher Drumm, MD, knows exactly what happens when we turn the clocks forward – as we will this weekend – for Daylight Saving Time. For one thing, his children have a hard time getting to sleep when it’s still light out.
And for another, the patients in his Norristown family practice begin showing up with the same complaints.
“I see more complaints of fatigue, brain fog and lack of focus,” says Dr. Drumm, a physician associated with Einstein Medical Center Montgomery – Jefferson Health. “Brain fog is a common complaint with post-COVID, post-stroke, and fibromyalgia, but it’s also something I see temporarily after time changes.”
And brain fog may be the least of it. Studies have shown that Daylight Saving Time (DST) is associated with a spike in car accidents, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, more hospital admissions, and mood disturbances. DST begins this year at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12.
The culprit seems to be the disruption in our circadian rhythm, the body’s natural 24-hour, sun-based cycle that regulates key functions such as appetite, mood and sleep.
Darker mornings can cause a decline in the level of the hormone serotonin – sometimes called the body’s “feel-good” chemical – and more light in the evenings can delay the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep.
It’s understandable, then, why some medical specialists want DST to end.
“Mounting evidence shows the dangers of seasonal time changes, which have been linked to increased medical errors, motor vehicle accidents, increased hospital admissions and other problems,” says Jennifer Martin, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“Restoring permanent, year-round standard time is the best option for our health and well-being.”
The AASM lobbied against a bill passed in 2022 by the U.S. Senate to make Daylight Saving Time permanent. The bill stalled in the House because of a lack of consensus among members of Congress and is in limbo.
So, what can we do to brace ourselves for the disruptive time change?
Some sleep experts urge individuals to set their clocks back early in the evening – rather than the customary midnight adjustment – and then go to sleep at the same time as usual.
Others say to adjust bedtime by shifting 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night a few nights before the shift. And go outside for early morning sunlight the week after the time change to help reset your internal clock to a new time.
“Daylight Saving Time doesn’t have an impact on everyone,” Dr. Drumm says. “The key is for patients to be aware if this has affected them in the past, and be prepared to adjust clocks, bedtimes – and expectations – for the next few days to weeks.”