This weekend, we'll move our clocks ahead for daylight saving time. Academics who study sleep and depression say the time switch is unhealthful. But there are a few things you can do to make it feel less harsh.
This weekend, we’ll “spring forward,” turning our clocks an hour ahead to observe daylight saving time.
Losing an hour of sleep can feel harsh, but there are a couple of things you can do — starting now — to mitigate the negative effects, according to sleep and depression experts.
For starters, you can go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual each night leading up to the 2 a.m. Sunday time change, says Nate Watson, a professor of neurology at the UW School of Medicine and director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center.
You can also use a “natural dawn simulator alarm clock” that emits a stream of gradually increasing light at your chosen wake-up time, says David Avery, a professor emeritus in the UW School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and an expert in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Once you’re awake, follow up that “simulated dawn” by spending 20 minutes or so under a bright light box or lamp that mimics sunlight.
Both Watson and Avery say the switch back and forth between standard and daylight time is not healthful because it interrupts people’s circadian rhythms.
“It doesn’t add one second to the 24-hour day and gets our body clock out of sync with the sun clock,” said Watson, who favors staying on standard time throughout the year. “We have an epidemic of sleep deprivation, and daylight saving time makes it worse.”
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He cites studies that show increased incidents of heart attacks, strokes and car accidents the day after the time change.
Watson is on the board of SleepScore Labs, which recently released a four-day progressive sleep strategy for dealing with daylight saving time on its free SleepScore app.
Avery says daylight saving time has a devastating effect on people who experience SAD, which he prefers to call “winter depression.”
That’s because morning light is significantly more important than evening light for establishing and syncing the body’s circadian rhythms. When we move our clocks forward into “daylight time,” we essentially lose an hour of morning light and tack it onto the evening.
People with winter depression tend to experience their lowest core body temperature at around 5:30 a.m., about two hours later than those who do not suffer from winter blues, Avery said. Even on standard time, people with seasonal depression feel like they’re having to wake up right when their body most wants to sleep — and the clock moving forward exacerbates the problem, he said.
Avery said that while switching the clock back and forth is not ideal, he believes it’s the best option of the three: permanent standard time, permanent daylight time or our current method of springing forward and falling back. He believes daylight saving time should be implemented in April, though, not March.
“Fortunately, we know how to control circadian rhythms with properly timed light,” he said.
Washington state legislators are considering several bills that would eliminate the clock change in favor of staying all year long on Pacific Daylight Time, the one we now use from March through November.
Proponents say the measure would save energy, reduce serious traffic collisions and lower health risks associated with the time change.
The legislative proposals have cleared committees in both the state House and Senate and could be headed for a full vote next week, according to Rep. Marcus Riccelli, chief sponsor of House Bill 1196.
Although efforts to end the twice-yearly clock change have been previously proposed, none has made it as far as this year’s measures, Riccelli said.
Doing away with standard time in Washington would require approval from Congress. Riccelli said he’s heard from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s staff that she is interested in participating in a conversation about the issue on a federal level.
“What’s interesting to me is how passionate and thrilled people are about this,” Riccelli said.
He said he understands the concerns raised by people who study seasonal depression and sleep disorders, but he said he’s seen studies that have shown the negative health effects of daylight saving are minimal.
“I think the benefits of decreasing crime and the positive health impact from daylight saving outweigh the negatives,” he said.
In addition, because California, Idaho and Oregon are considering similar proposals to adopt one time zone, Riccelli believes now is the right time to act.
Avery said a three-year experiment in Russia with permanent daylight time was a failure, with people reporting worse academic performance and more symptoms of winter depression.
He said even people who consider themselves night owls will end up “hating” permanent daylight time.
“Without the light in the morning that helps people wake up and get to their jobs in the morning, evening people won’t be able to function,” Avery said.