In many locations tonight, including here in Edmonton, we will shift 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 get sleep cravings from Daylight Savings.
These sleep cravings are 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 the return to near darkness when I go to work in the mornings—and enjoy the only practical DST benefit for me—my extra hour of sunlight in the evenings.