On Sunday, November 6, we will “fall back”, setting our clocks back an hour and the end of daylight saving time. Most Americans dislike this twice-yearly time reset, and it may soon come to an end. Last March the United States Senate unanimously approved the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, which would abolish these changes and set clocks permanently to daylight saving time.
Many scientists maintain that standard time is better for human circadian biology, particularly when it means shorter, darker days. Our bodies’ natural clocks are out of sync with daylight saving time according to many Neurologists and Sleep Specialists. It denies us the light in the morning that we need to wake up and delays the darkness that tells us we need to rest. Daylight saving time also increases the gap between our biological clocks and our social clocks.
Sunlight and Our Internal Clocks
Changing between standard time and daylight-saving time disrupts more than just sleep. Our internal clocks optimize bodily functions throughout the day, including digestion, hormone secretion, and the sleep-wake cycle. Sunlight is one of the strongest drivers of these internal clocks, more exposure to light in the morning and less exposure in the evening support synchronization of our bodies functions. During standard time, the sun is directly overhead around noon in most places, which best matches our biological sleep-wake cycle.
Reducing exposure to morning light and increasing it during the evening, as happens during daylight saving time, has been shown to cause sleep deprivation, which can trigger inflammation and activation of genes associated with different cancers. More than a third of Americans are sleep-deprived, which can have detrimental effects on mood, memory, and health including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Daylight Saving Time Research Studies
Brain & Life magazine stated that a 2019 review in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that the risk of heart attacks increased “modestly but significantly” after the transition to daylight saving time. A paper published in PLOS Computational Biology in 2020 concluded that the shift to daylight saving time was associated with elevated risks of cardiovascular disease, mental and behavioral problems, and immune-related disorders.
Even slight misalignments between the body clock and the social clock can have serious health consequences. In an article published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2017, researchers found health disparities within time zones: People who live in the westernmost parts of a time zone, where sunrise and sunset occur minutes later, experience more health problems and shorter lives on average than their counterparts who live on the time zone’s eastern edge.
Based on these studies and other evidence, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) strongly agrees that daylight saving time should be eliminated. In a 2020 position statement, the organization called for the adoption of permanent standard time because it “aligns best with human circadian biology” and protects the health and safety of Americans. The statement was endorsed by more than 20 medical, scientific, and civic organizations.
Not all sleep specialists agree with eliminating daylight-saving time. Changing the clocks twice a year is better than making daylight saving time permanent, says Karin G. Johnson, MD, FAAN, a sleep specialist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. She notes that the AASM, the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, the Sleep Research Society, and the advocacy group Save Standard Time all agree that permanent daylight-saving time would be more harmful than the current practice. “The only advantage of making daylight saving time permanent,” Dr. Johnson says, “would be to stop the acute effects we feel during the change. It does not eliminate the long-term consequences, which can be harder to appreciate.”
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
Mayo Clinic states that you should try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This helps your body regulate its sleep. If possible, wake up at the same time on the weekends, which can make Monday mornings easier to bear.
Sleep Benefits and Risks
- Learning and memory – Sleep allows the brain to better process new experiences and knowledge, and improves comprehension and memory.
- Metabolism and weight – Sleep helps regulate the hormones that affect and control appetite. Studies have shown that during sleep deprivation, the normal hormonal balance is affected and appetite increases.
- Cardiovascular health –Serious sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Mood – Insufficient sleep can make people more agitated or moody the following day. Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to long-term mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
- Immunity – During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. These proteins deal with stress, fight infections and decrease inflammation in the body. Without enough sleep, these protective proteins and other important infection-fighting cells are reduced. Our body needs adequate sleep to fight infections and inflammation.
- Alertness – Lack of sleep can take a toll on perception and judgment. In the workplace, its effects can be seen in reduced efficiency and productivity, errors and accidents. It also can be deadly, such as drowsy driving fatalities.
The Sleep Foundation states, while many people adapt to time changes, some studies have suggested the human body never fully acclimates to DST. Rather, their circadian misalignment may become a chronic or permanent condition. This can lead to more serious health problems, especially for those who experience “social jet lag” because their demands at work or school take precedence over a full night’s sleep. Social jet lag has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, depression, and cardiovascular disease. The effects of DST subside gradually after a few weeks.
Contact a Sleep Specialist in Florida
If you or a loved one suffers from sleep deprivation, contact a sleep specialist a First Choice Neurology today!