The Surprising Side Effects of Time Change
Autumn is here and the end of Daylight Saving Time is quickly approaching. This seemingly harmless one-hour time change causes many people to experience a multitude of side effects that can last for several days. How Daylight Saving really affects you depends upon your own personal health, your sleep habits and your lifestyle.
Most noticeably, Daylight Saving can throw off sleep cycles. Your circadian rhythm is your body's natural 24-hour cycle. A disruption in this rhythm, like Daylight Saving, is typically environmental, not genetic. Therefore, individuals can easily adjust behaviors that may cause issues, such as a poor sleep schedule. The rule of thumb is that for each hour of time change, it takes a day to adjust. So, if you get seven to eight hours of sleep and go to bed a little early the night before, you should wake feeling refreshed. However, if you already lack sleep and perhaps consume some caffeine or alcohol the night before, you might wake feeling sleep-deprived. Time to reset your internal clock!
Your circadian rhythm is internal, but influenced by environment, behavior and medications. Light is a principal environmental cue, and light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a natural sleep-inducing substance. So it’s important to get plenty of light during your waking hours and not to expose yourself to bright light when it’s dark outside.
Having a sleep-friendly environment will improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep and sleeping soundly. That means reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising (at least several hours before bedtime) and using relaxation techniques (a hot bath, ear plugs or a sleep mask) before bed.
And though it’s not great to eat before bed, evidence does say carbohydrates make it easier to fall asleep. As for sleep medications, these have the potential for addiction, so contact your physician or sleep specialist before beginning any medication.
Other health and lifestyle issues
Your circadian rhythm controls the release of your body’s hormones that affect mood, hunger and sleep. When these rhythms shift, as they do with time change, your body notices the difference.
- Some people get “cluster headaches” that cluster within one side of the head, causing unbearable pain for days or weeks.
- A lack of sleep can lead to an increase in the hormone ghrelin that regulates hunger, causing an increase in appetite. So maintain a healthy number of sleep hours, and don’t stay up later because you’re “gaining” that extra hour.
- Sunlight boosts your serotonin level, which elevates mood. So get out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts; sunset comes sooner with the end of Daylight Saving Time.
Interested in hearing more from Northwestern Medicine? Sign up for the Healthy Tips E‑Newsletter for everything from health and wellness ideas to patient breakthroughs to academic and medical advancements.