How the End of Daylight Saving Time Impacts Your Health

Early one Sunday morning each autumn we set our clocks back one hour after moving them forward an hour one Sunday morning each spring. Daylight Saving Time (DST) has been adopted by various countries throughout the world since 1908. But daylight saving time may have a negative impact on your health that can have long-lasting effects.

History of daylight saving time

Daylight saving time was adopted by the U.S. in 1918 to conserve energy during World War I. But because it was so unpopular, it was abandoned after the war. In 1942, President Roosevelt reenacted daylight saving during World War II, and this lasted until 1945. From then until 1966, each state was free to choose whether or not they wished to continue following it. To eliminate some of the confusion this caused, the Uniform Time Act was signed in 1966 to enforce consistency with daylight saving for all states choosing to use it.

The Circadian Rhythm

Over the course of millions of years, we’ve evolved to function following the rhythm of sunrise and sunset. This sleep-wake cycle is referred to as the circadian rhythm. It’s well known that light and darkness each stimulate the release of different hormones that play a significant role in how the body functions. With the creation and widespread use of artificial light, it’s become possible to override these natural triggers, but often at a cost to our health.

The Importance of a Regular Sleep Schedule

The body operates on a consistent 24-hour cycle. When darkness falls, the body triggers the release of the hormone melatonin, which promotes a feeling of sleepiness.  In the morning when the sun rises, the body shuts off the release of melatonin and produces the hormone cortisol. Cortisol helps to give you energy for your day. Some people who typically wake up early in the morning will have trouble sleeping in after going to bed later than their normal bedtime. Their body has become accustomed to waking up at a certain time and will follow this pattern until it’s disrupted enough to be changed.

But these disruptions are stressful to the body. And they often result in sleep deprivation. In turn, fatigue and impaired immunity are just a couple of the problems that can result. If disruptions continue indefinitely, it can lead to severely compromised health and chronic illness.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule every day of the week, including weekends, promotes better health. It helps to relieve the stress of a disrupted circadian rhythm. It promotes better energy, better sleep, and a stronger immune system. And it makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Following a regular sleep schedule is just one of the many good sleep habits that will improve your health.

Of course, it’s not always practical to maintain this type of schedule. Many people have to wake up early for work. And on weekends, many engage in social activities that require them to stay awake past their typical bedtime. The key is moderation. There’s no point in staying up late on a Friday night to watch television just because you don’t have to get up early the next morning. Limit staying up late to special social events and festive occasions instead.

Falling back an hour can impact your mood

When daylight saving ends and it begins getting dark earlier, many people often experience mood issues. Studies have shown that the rate of people being diagnosed with depression spikes following the end of daylight saving. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is directly related to the fall time change. People who struggle with SAD experience an increase in the symptoms of depression that occur during the fall and winter months. This increase in symptoms is linked to a change in the amount of daylight that they are exposed to.

What can you do to reset your sleep cycle after daylight saving ends?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that you gradually adjust your sleep and wake routines before the fall time change. Go to sleep 15-20 minutes later each night for a few nights until you are going to bed at your normal bedtime according to the time change. It may take a couple of weeks for your body to fully adjust. On the night of the time change, set your clocks back just before bed, and go to sleep at your normal bedtime. Be sure to also adjust other schedules such as mealtimes the week before the time change as well.

How do you overcome mood issues from it getting dark earlier?

One of the best ways to overcome seasonal affective disorder is through the use of light therapy. Studies have shown that using a light therapy lightbox for 20-40 minutes daily significantly reduced depression symptoms in those struggling with SAD.

Being aware of how the time change can impact your health is the first step to helping you avoid the most common issues people face when we set our clocks back each fall. Being proactive can help you to continue getting the vital sleep your body needs to maintain good health.