How Daylight Savings Time Impacts Our Health

Mar 9, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Jeong Woo Kim/EyeEm/Getty Images

If daylight savings time crept up on you this year, you’re not alone. With the wild winter weather still hammering many parts of the country, it’s hard to believe we’re going to be springing forward on Sunday, March 11. But ready or not, here it comes.

Here are a few facts you need to know: It officially happens 2:00 a.m. local time on March 11, which means you'd better plan on setting your clocks forward before you go to bed on Saturday night.

Most of the United States observes DST on the same dates. But if you live in Hawaii or Arizona, you’re off the hook, and you don’t have to move your clocks forward on Sunday (though the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona still observes DST).

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DST is known to impact certain health conditions and contribute to more work-related injuries and car accidents in the days following the time change. That’s why it’s important to know how this time change can impact your health and what you can do to make the transition easier.

How daylight savings time can impact your health

Let’s face it. Those first few weeks of waking up to a darker morning can be difficult for many people. In fact, Dr. Mia Finkelston, a board-certified family physician who treats patients virtually via telehealth app LiveHealth Online, says it can be especially unsettling for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder and those who rely on the brightness that generally accompanies morning time to put them in a good mood for the day ahead.

Springing forward is also a concern for people who have risk factors for heart disease or known heart disease. “We know that the majority of heart attacks occur in the early morning hours,” says Finkelston. She explains that when we get up and rev our buddies for the day a little earlier than normal, it can create added physical stress. This added physical stress usually rears its head during the first three weekdays of daylight savings time.

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If you have a heart condition or exhibit risk factors for heart disease, Finkelston recommends setting your alarm clock a bit earlier (15 to 30 minutes) than usual this week to give your body a chance to get used to the time change. It’s also a good idea to get to bed a little earlier.

Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach for SleepZoo, lays out several key studies in his sleep report that show an increase in fatal car crashes, strokes, workplace injuries, lost workdays and cluster headaches in the days following this time change.

The good news: There are steps you can take to help make this transition easier for your body. Here, Drs. Shalini Manchanda and Ninotchka Sigua, sleep medicine physicians at Indiana University Health, share their expert tips for tackling the challenges of DST.

Tips for tackling the challenges of daylight savings time

Do

  • Maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule
  • Slowly move your bedtime and wake-up time a week before the time change (go to bed 10 minutes earlier per night and wake up about 10 minutes earlier per day)
  • Get regular exercise
  • Get exposure to bright light in the morning to help you wake up better
  • Try to avoid bright light prior to bedtime
  • Have a relaxing sleep environment (quiet, dark and cool is always conducive to sleeping)

Don’t

  • Consume alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime
  • Watch television close to bedtime
  • Use a computer or cell phone use close to bedtime
  • Nap late in the day
  • Stay in bed when you're struggling to sleep — go to another room and do something relaxing

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