In a letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” In his advocacy for people to wake up and leverage the day, Franklin joked there should be a tax on window shutters, candles should be rationed, and canons should be fired at sunrise!
But it was the small town of Port Arthur in northern Ontario that first changed the clocks by enactment on July 1, 1908.
In recent times, one of the main arguments for shifting the time to align with the sun focuses on energy savings during evening hours. But dozens of studies have shown the effect to be negligible.
Now, the health implications of Daylight Savings Time (DST) are becoming the hot topic, with researchers investigating its impact on everything from sleep patterns to heart health.
The effect of DST on sleep is significant. Numerous studies have found the time change can disrupt our sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation and increased fatigue. This is particularly true in Spring, when we lose an hour of sleep and our bodies struggle to adjust to the new schedule.
The time change and associated disruption to sleep patterns can have more serious health consequences. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of heart attacks increased by 25% on the Monday following the springtime change. This is powerful evidence that disturbed sleep patterns can be highly stressful on the cardiovascular system.
Mental health can be another victim. One study published in Sleep Medicine found the springtime change was associated with increased symptoms of depression, particularly in people who already had a history of depression. The study’s findings further suggested that the disruption to sleep patterns might even trigger the onset of depressive symptoms.
One strategy to mitigate these problems is to adjust sleep patterns leading up to the time change. For those observing a regular nighttime routine, this means going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier each day in the week leading up to the change. Even for those without a firm pattern, making the effort to shift forward in advance – both physically and mentally – should help.
Another strategy is to prioritize good sleep. Create a comfortable sleep environment, establish a regular sleep schedule, and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Are you tired of the debate about DST? Worse, are you “tired all the time”? You may need to take a closer look at the benefits of getting a good sleep. Sleep scientists can present compelling evidence showing how being tired leads to increased risk of traffic accidents, for example. Studies also link poor sleep with obesity, diabetes, cancer and dementia. Abnormal sleep and psychiatric conditions go hand in glove.
Don’t forget the function of sleep as a sort of garbage collection system. During sleep, the body rejuvenates the brain by sorting “keeper” information from “trash”. Sleep also helps the body clear out and clean up waste in the cardiovascular system while refueling immune function.
If there is a good argument in favour of DST, it might be Franklin’s suggestion to fire a canon each morning at sunrise. That would surely get people on their feet and outside to take a look. An early morning experience in the outdoors – whether it be a walk or even just a few moments of quiet contemplate about the new day – is an excellent step to good health.
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