For many of us, the annual changing of the clocks in March—‘spring forward’—seems like just a minor annoyance and simply results in us losing one hour of sleep - and our Sunday morning lie-in. At least, that’s what we think. However, tampering with the clock has been shown to cause far more disruption than that, and the recorded costs to society are huge.
The debate is heating up
Each year, we hear more voices clamouring to abolish the time change and yet more voices urging us to keep it, so we avoid the consequences of dark mornings during the winter months. Each side of the debate has valid arguments but, in essence, we are simply trying to cheat our ancient natural bodily rhythms. Our natural make-up doesn't match our socio-economic model that we have chosen to live by.
Dr. Michael Antle, PhD, a professor with the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary argues that humans actually live by three clocks—the 'solar' clock, the 'body clock', with its circadian system and the 'social clock', which is governed by our work routine, school, and other social activities. While our body clock is meant to follow the solar day, society dictates that we follow the social clock.
“The problem is that our social clock and our circadian clock are often in conflict,” says Antle. “When your boss tells you to be at work before your body clock says you should be, that leads to be something we call social jet lag.”
He adds: “The human circadian clock runs a little slow and we have to nudge it forward and reset our clocks each day. Slow clocks need morning light. With DST, we get less light in the morning and more light in the evening and this actually exacerbates the constant mismatch between our body clock and our social clocks.”
Politicians typically have a hard time trying to decide on this issue and public polls are not necessarily reliable as many people don't understand the body clock vs. social clock issue, and as such are basing opinions on other factors. However, at least for Canadians, it seems that the twice yearly clock change may soon be abolished.
The twice yearly clock change may soon be abolished in Canada.
The consequences of sleep loss
We live in a chronically sleep deprived society, so any increase in sleep loss may have consequences for individual and public safety. Studies show that although one hour’s change may seem like a minor disruption, the effect on the body’s sleep/ wakefulness cycle has measurable changes for up to 5 days.
Any increase in sleep loss may have consequences for individual and public safety.
The most visible consequences are errors in judgment that contribute to disastrous events such as the space shuttle Challenger (Walsh et al., 2005). Less visible consequences of sleep deprivation are far more prevalent, and they take a toll that affects nearly every key indicator of public health: mortality, morbidity, performance, accidents and injuries, functioning and quality of life, family well-being, and health care utilization.
Some of these consequences, such as automobile crashes, occur within hours (or minutes) of the sleep disorder, and are therefore relatively easy to link to sleep problems. Others—for example, obesity and hypertension—develop more insidiously over months and years of chronic sleep deprivation. After decades of research, it is conclusive that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound and widespread effects on human health—including obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and they affect every single organ in the body.
Studies show even partial sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on mood, and this effect can snowball because when you feel stressed and anxious, thanks to lack of sleep from the previous night, it’s hard to settle down for the following night’s rest.
The effects of daylight saving time can have more impact on adolescents, according to André U. Aguillon, M.D., assistant professor at the University of Toledo’s medical school and program director of the university’s Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program. “Not only do they require more sleep than adults, but their habitual sleep-wake timing is typically delayed.”
The economic cost of sleep deprivation is significant as well. A recent study entitled Why sleep matters - the economic costs of insufficient sleep showed that lack of sleep among the U.S. workforce costs about $411 billion and loses 1.2 million working days per annum. Researchers found that those who sleep, on average, less than six hours a night have a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours.
Recent study showed that lack of sleep costs the US about $411 billion per annum
How does changing the clocks affect your health?
When ever we ‘spring forward’, the key mechanism that is affected is our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) which is regulated by natural hormone, melatonin. It is essential that our bodies produce adequate levels of melatonin in order to regulate the circadian rhythm. The slightest change can throw the system off, creating the same effect as if the body is jet-lagged. When daylight saving is implemented, the sun effectively sets later and therefore the body’s natural melatonin production cycle is delayed. Other hormones such as cortisol (the adrenal/stress hormone) are also affected and the combined effect can result in health problems.
Tips for staying healthy when the clocks are changed
Get a jumpstart on giving your body time to adjust by going to bed 15 minutes earlier over the course of three or four nights.
- Take advantage of a power nap, take a 20-minute snooze during the day.
- Exercise, always. Several studies have shown that regular exercise regulates the sleep/wake cycle. If you exercice in the morning, it gets you up and moving and wakes your body up, as well as exposing you to light and raising your body temperature.
- Make eight hours of sleep a priority. Most of us are already suffering from chronic lack of sleep, meaning that changing the clocks simply makes an existing problem worse. By getting eight hours of sleep every night, you’re guaranteed to feel more energized—no matter what the clock says.
- Consider taking natural melatonin and cortisol regulators. They are safe and have no side effects.
- AWAKE and SLEEP are all-natural, non-addictive products designed to mitigate the effects of circadian rhythm disruption. AWAKE helps keep you alert and focused when you need to be, and ASLEEP promotes proper, restorative sleep. Both products are available at https://awakeandasleep.com.