Beyond timekeeping: How daylight saving time affects your well-beingTuesday 10 October 2023
Thanks to the twice-yearly switch between BST and GMT, we find ourselves thrown from our usual sleeping pattern and forced to live life an hour out of step. All that springing forward and falling back can affect us in ways we may not expect…
The reasoning behind daylight saving is primarily to make better use of the natural daylight available throughout the year. You may have noticed in recent weeks that the leaves are turning, the temperatures are dropping and the sun is rising slightly later each day, which all led to the official end of British Summer Time on Sunday morning when the clocks went back.
Here are some surprising insights into the possible consequences of the lighter mornings and darker evenings, as well as some tips on how to adjust.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might prevent part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly, which may affect the:
- production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy
- production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels
- body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – our bodies use sunlight to time various important functions, such as when to wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock
Tip: Get as much light as possible when you wake up. You may not feel like throwing open the curtains as soon as you open your eyes, but this is ‘by far the most effective way to jumpstart change,’ according to Chris Winter M.D., author of The Sleep Solution. “Your body sets its rhythm in large part by light.”
Silentnight’s sleep expert, Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, believes that an extra hour of sleep in the morning will make strange dreams more vivid and easy to remember. She advises those of us who might be inclined to grab an extra hour in bed the morning after the clocks go back, to get up and be productive instead.
Tip: Whether you chose to grab that extra hour in bed or rise early on Sunday morning, you should continue to practise good sleep habits, such as avoiding screens, steering clear of caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime, and making sure you have a comfortable sleeping environment.
You may find that the shift to daylight saving time can make you feel a little mentally fuzzy or slow. It might not come as a surprise to you that studies have shown an increase in car accidents on the ensuing Monday when the clocks go forward in the spring, likely as a result of sleep loss. But did you know that the autumn shift to GMT also shows an increase?
In a 1999 study by John Hopkins and Stanford University, researchers examined the data and found a correlation between 'falling back’ and an increase in car crashes on the Sunday. Researchers suggest this is due to an increase in late night (early Sunday morning) driving when traffic related accidents are possibly related to alcohol consumption or driving whilst sleepy, which may reflect a behavioural anticipation of an extended late night prior to the change.
Tip: Go to bed as your usual time on the Saturday night before the clocks change. “As we are a typically sleep-deprived society, we should take advantage of the extra hour of sleep,” says André U. Aguillion, M.D., assistant professor at the University of Toledo’s medical school and program director of the university’s Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program. Staying up late in order to take advantage of the extra hour in the evening increases our chances of becoming drowsy and driving tired.
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