Sunday #11: March 11, 2012 – Sleep Cravings and Daylight Savings

In many locations today, including here in Edmonton, we have shifted to Daylight Savings Time (DST) with the traditional “spring forward” change of the clock. The theory behind DST, of course, is that adding an extra hour of sunlight to the evening brings many benefits:

  • fewer road accidents and related injuries
  • more evening social time
  • boosts to tourism from increased outdoor activities
  • electricity savings from needing fewer lights at night

These benefits are increasingly debated, especially electricity savings. Some studies show the savings exist. Other studies show they do not. I believe that although the evenings are lighter, the mornings are darker, at least at the beginning of the DST shift. In my opinion, any energy saved at night is simply moved to mornings instead. I am no scientist, though, so I could be wrong.

What concerns me are the harms associated with DST, especially its effects on sleep. I have always dreaded the idea of losing an hour of sleep each spring. Some argue it’s not really a sleep loss because you don’t actually sleep any less. The time is different, but you still sleep the same number of hours you normally would. I am not sure if that’s true or not. What I am sure of is that I feel like I slept less. And I am not alone.

Many people feel DST affects sleeping patterns and body clocks. They complain of sleepiness, headaches and stress. Sleep deprivation is known to have a negative impact on health, particularly heart health. A 2008 study, Shifts to and from Daylight Saving Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction by Imre Janszky and Rickard Ljungand, found heart attacks increased significantly for the first three weekdays after we spring forward. The same study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found DST interrupts our biological rhythms, which affects quality and length of sleep. This impact lasts for many days. It’s no wonder many of us have sleep cravings from Daylight Savings.

I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition often marked by problems with sleep associated with unusual brain wave patterns. Since I got sick in 2008, I never sleep well enough or long enough. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the entire night. The idea that once a year, with the annual DST ritual, my already poor sleep pattern will be further interrupted is worrisome.

As I sit and write this now, I feel even more exhausted than on a usual day. I have felt worn out since the moment I woke up. Normally, my super sleepy feeling wanes around lunch time. But not today. Not even at 2 p.m. I am disconcerted by the fact that this drowsiness will likely last several days—at a time when I can least afford to be tired; I have too many assignments to worry about.

I understand why my body feels so tired with DST. It’s similar to the negative impact of jet lag that I have become too familiar with from my years of world travel. I wanted to know if there are any ways to help my body make the transition to DST, so I looked it up. It turns out some of the tips for jet lag can also help with your sleep cravings from Daylight Savings.

Here are some simple, natural suggestions.

  • Take a walk or a run. Exercise stimulates serotonin and other brain chemicals connected with sleep.
  • Take in some bright natural light. An hour or two should do.
  • Trick the body into thinking it’s later than it is by eating dinner early.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol—well known sleep disturbers— in the afternoons and evenings for the next several days.

Ultimately, the best solution would be to eliminate Daylight Savings Time. Since that is not likely to happen any time soon, at least not for this year, I will have to live with my sleep cravings—and enjoy the only practical DST benefit for me—my extra hour of sunlight.

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2 Responses to Sunday #11: March 11, 2012 – Sleep Cravings and Daylight Savings

  1. Mandi says:

    This week has been tough for me too! If you ever want to start an “End DST” campaign, I’m with you all the way! Do those tips work for jetlag too? Or do you have other suggestions for traveling?

    • Most of these ideas also work with jet lag when you are in the midst of it or are on the flight that will get you to jet lag. There are other tips for when you are preparing ahead of time, such as adjusting your sleep schedule by half an hour each day before you leave.

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