Image above from The Transcontinental
Sunday March 12 is the start of Daylight Savings Time. Our clocks spring forward 1 hour at 2:00 am.
This ritual began in ancient civilizations, when daily schedules would be adjusted to the change in daylight. Later Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay for Parisians entitled “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” in 1784 explaining how less candles could be used if people woke up earlier, making more use of natures early light.
Although other countries adopted Daylight Savings time before the US, such as Germany in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson was the first to sign it into law in 1918 to conserve coal during the Great War. It was eventually repealed, though a handful of states maintained it. In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt, again to assist the conservation needed for the war efforts, made “Daylight Savings Time” year round, calling it “War Time”. After the war, however, no federal law maintained the time change and states chose to do what they wished. The Uniform Time Law of 1966 attempted to unite the states in this effort and the law, signed by President Lydon B. Johnson, decreed Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. States had the right to vote to exempt themselves. By 2007, the Energy Policy Act, created in 2005 declared that Daylight Savings time begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November. Some states, including Arizona and Hawaii, do not convert to DST.
Now besides the groaning that occurs each week when we “lose” an hour at night of sleep, concerns have risen in the scientific community regarding health risks. These include headaches, workplace injuries, car accidents and heart attacks.
A study from the University of Colorado a few years back found a spike in car accidents the first week after Daylight Savings Time change. Apparently drivers did worse with one hour less of sleep that those comfortable with their routine prior to the time change.
In 2014 a different study from the same university found heart attack risk to spike 25% the following Monday after the “spring forward” but fell to almost normal when the clocks fell back in the Fall.
Personally the anxiety my listeners have with the one hour change makes one wonder the risk isn’t higher. We’ve been losing hours of uninterrupted sleep for years once we allowed our smartphones into our bedrooms but a 60 minute time change…..the country falls apart.
Now with electricity, batteries, generators, and charged mobile devices the need to change the clocks to conserve energy isn’t as urgent as it once was. However, I’m not ready to suggest its demise because I really like the extra hour of sleep in the Fall. So to decrease the risk of an ICU visit every Spring, I would suggest the following:
- Prepare for the time change before it happens. Wake up 10 -20 minutes early a few days before the change so that the one hour shift isn’t too drastic for our delicate circadian rhythms
- Continue your exercise each morning (and don’t skip it the Monday morning after DST) so your body gets accustomed to the adrenaline surge and you’ll be able to maintain your morning alertness despite the time change.
- Eat a balanced breakfast. You should be doing this as well year round but remember to include protein and complex carbs as energy sources.
- Make use of natural sunlight to help wake you up. Just as we benefit from the moonlight to help us fall asleep, our body needs sunlight to wake up. Take a short walk each morning to get some brisk exercise in and sunlight at the same time.
- Don’t stress about the time change. You’ll build it up bigger than it has to be and anxiety stresses the heart.
- Go to bed a little earlier Sunday night.
And finally, remember to change your clocks!! Coming to work late Monday morning negates all the preparation we did the weekend before. Personally I like to set my alarm for 1:50 am, splash some water on face to be bright and alert, and then meticulously change each clock in my house. I know smartphones change themselves… but where’s the fun in that?
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician