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How to Cope with the End of Daylight Saving Time

It’s a fall ritual that follows Halloween every year. On the first Sunday of November we “fall back” into standard time by setting our clocks back one hour. This gives us back the hour of sleep we lost in the spring when we “sprang forward” to preserve evening sunshine. An extra hour of sleep—sounds great, right?

Not so much. With most digital clocks making the adjustment automatically, we may experience the change with little effort on our parts, but our bodies don’t adjust as well as our phones and computers. There’s a lot of research that shows the time change is hard on our bodies, whether we are springing forward or falling back. It can take a week or more for our bodies to adjust to the change in time.

Older Adults Especially Affected by Time Changes

That is especially true for older adults. So much so, that there is growing debate about whether we should bother with this hundred-year-old practice. Politicians have asked for more research into whether we would move to permanent standard time or permanent daylight saving time (DST). Science has answered with a slew of studies showing just how much we are affected by this twice-annual 60-minute change.

It messes up our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are our bodies’ internal clock—the 24-hour schedule of waking and sleeping. The changing time disrupts this internal clock, and it is especially harmful for older adults who are more likely to have difficulties with their sleep schedules. Experts from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine say that the time changes causes our bodies to be out of synch with the natural light/dark schedule that regulates our internal clocks.

It can worsen chronic health conditions. For adults with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, the time change can increase “sundowning” symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, agitation and confusion that begins or worsens as the sun goes down. That makes DST an especially challenging time for family caregivers. Strokes increase by about 8% after both time changes. And people with kidney disease are at a higher risk of heart attack following the time change.

It can increase symptoms of depression. One study showed that hospitals reported addressing 11% more depressive symptoms right after the fall time change. Sunshine helps us make the happy brain chemical serotonin. The lack of natural light in the winter can depress us, and the artificial light we use as a replacement can also affect our sleep.

Why do we do this bi-annual clock changing routine anyway? A common misconception is that daylight saving time was implemented to give farmers more daylight in the field. But that’s not true! DST was started by the United States Department of Energy to conserve energy. But these days, producing light after sunset represents less than 6% of the energy we consume.

Geography plays a role as well. People in northern areas of the country experience less light in winter and more light in summer. And those who live on the western edges of time zones have earlier sunrises and later sunsets than people living in the center or eastern edge of a time zone. Making the transition even more confusing, some states and territories don’t participate in daylight saving time!

Tips to Help Reduce Transition Confusion

Since most of us must continue changing our clocks twice a year, what can we do to deal with the effects on our bodies? Try these tips.

  1. Transition slowly. Make the change gradually over the span of a week.
  2. Maintain good sleep hygiene. Don’t watch television or scroll on your phone in bed.
  3. Get outdoors. Spend time in the daylight every day, even if it is just a quick walk or lunch by a window.
  4. Stick to your schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time you did before the change. Don’t stay up late just because you don’t feel tired.

With these tips in mind, you and your loved ones will be better prepared to “fall back” into standard time.

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