While savings on energy because of longer days are often cited for this arbitrary time change, the truth is it ends up being more of a hassle for most of us. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll revealed that only 37% of Americans thing that DST is worth the trouble, while 45% don't think it's worth it. The energy savings are nonexistent, and the negative effects of DST on health are becoming hard to ignore.
Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians Unviersity in Munich, Germany, has been studying these effects. More broadly, he studies the cumulative effects of DST on our bodies' relationship with day and night. And not surprisingly, they can be critical. The changes we make both during spring and summer disrupt our chronobiologic rhythms and impact the duration and quality of our sleep. What's more, the effects last for several days after the time shifts.
This is how Prof. Roennenberg explained it to National Geographic in 2010:
"The consequence of that is that the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired."
But DST has even more dramatic impacts on health. Two different studies, one in 2008 and a more recent one in 2012, have shown that both "spring forward" and "fall back" time shifts increase the incidence of heart attack in the days following the time changes. Interestingly, the spring time shift has a more pronounced effect on women than on men, while the fall time change has a more pronounced effect on men.
So it's not just about being groggy in the morning because you have to roll out of bed when it's pitch black outside. DST actually impacts your health.
So what can you do to avoid these negative effects?
It will sure take more effort to do this as it gets colder, especially in the dark mornings, and especially in the rain. But exercise has great benefits for your health. In an ABC News interview, biologist David Glass from Kent State University suggests that even a brisk walk can simulate serotonin release in the brain, influencing how our bodies react to the time change. And serotonin (aka 'the happy hormone') has other effects too, including alleviating the winter blues that many of us suffer from in the Northern hemisphere.
Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, has many benefits for our health, including helping regulate our immune system (bye bye common colds!), maintain a healthy body weight and maintaining cognitive functions. What's more, sunshine simply makes us happy. The reason, again, is serotonin: sunlight stimulates its production in the brain.
For some of us, seeking sunlight seems impossible in the fall and winter hours. We either wake up early - hence it's dark outside; get home late - once again, dark outside; or the sun is just not cooperating, hiding for days in the clouds. This is where lamps that mimic sunlight, also called full spectrum lamps, might come in handy. These lamps might be more expensive, but their benefits are invaluable: they improve mood, productivity, mental and visual clarity, and they reduce fatigue. These benefits make them perfect for use both at home and in the office.
The majority of adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per day in order to operate at optimal alertness. It's true that some people differ somewhat in this, but on average only 5% need less than 7 hours, and 5% more than 8 to feel well-rested. Quality sleep is absolutely essential for us to be alert and productive. What's more, when you cut on sleep you actually accumulate sleep debt. That means that if you need 8 hours a night but only sleep 5, you accumulate a 3-hour sleep debt. And each time you do this, your debt gets larger and the negative effects of sleep depravation grow.
If you think you can repay your debt with a lump sum of weekend snoozing, you're wrong. Sleeping longer than usual on your days off will just through your body off. Instead, you can take naps and make sleeping a priority throughout the week.
Take melatonin supplements
Consider taking a small melatonin supplement if sleeping well is hard for you. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and helps control your sleep and wake cycles. A small amount is all you need to help you regulate your sleep cycle if the DST time changes disturb it. It's best to consult with a health professional before you take the supplements. Melatonin is often used to alleviate jet lag, which is why some say that for just a one-hour time shift it's better to seek natural solutions.
Humans are social creatures, and close relationships are crucial to our happiness. But when days are shorter, colder and darker, we might feel inclined to hibernate in our caves. Yet research has found that people are happier when they are with others than when they are alone, and the boost is the same for both introverts and extroverts. So make time for family and friends this weekend to fight off the negative effects of DST.
Do you have any tips on how to fight off the negative effects of DST? We'd love to hear them in the comments below.