The Rhythm of DST: Exploring Sleep, Health, and Heart Matter

The Rhythm of DST: Exploring Sleep, Health, and Heart Matter

As a healthy living coach, I get dozens of inquiries every year about Daylight Savings Time (DST) and its curious influence on our health and well-being. We all have our opinions on DST, love it or hate, it we’ve got to roll with it. So, it’s important to understand and embrace it if we want to navigate its effects on our overall well-being.

Research suggests that there’s a slight increase in cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes, in the days following the transition to DST in the spring. An NIH study took a deep dive into the effects of this time shift on various diseases. They’re hoping this analysis will help us weigh the risks and benefits of DST shifts. It’s been observed that DST can up the risk of cerebrovascular and cardiovascular problems i.e., strokes and heart attacks, but other potential health impacts. Are still unclear. So, there’s more to explore!

But what does all this mean for you? Well, it means that daylight-saving time has the potential to mess with your health. Awareness is the first step to combatting any negative effects of DST and vital to engage in selfcare practices for your health and wellness.

Before we dive into the health effects, let’s take a look at the reasoning behind DST (the second Sunday in March through the first Sunday in November). This whole time-shifting thing started in 1918, with some alterations during wars and energy crises. It became standard practice with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The goal of DST is to make the most of daylight during summer days. By moving our clocks forward, we get to enjoy more daylight in the evening and reduce our dependence on artificial lighting. Plus, it helps save energy by extending daylight into the evening. And, for those of us who live in places like Minnesota, Vermont, or even countries like Sweden and Finland, that extra hour of sunlight can seem like quite a treat!

Potential Benefits of Daylight Savings Time

With more daylight in the evening, we can squeeze in outdoor activities after work or school. Think about it—shopping, dining out, or joining outdoor events become more enticing when you’ve got that bonus daylight on your side. In the past, DST made farming activities and harvesting more efficient.

Initially, it was believed that more evening daylight would improve road safety, thanks to increased visibility during commuting hours. But nowadays, the effectiveness and impact of DST on these factors are up for debate. Some studies even suggest that the energy savings from DST may not be as significant in modern times rendering it obsolete. Additionally, there’s evidence showing an increase in car crashes at both the beginning and end of DST. Yikes!

Daylight Savings Time and Circadian Rhythm

Did you know that around sixty percent of countries in the world stick to standard time all year round? That means that the other forty percent, including most of the United States, mess with their clocks and switch between standard and daylight savings time every year. The practice of switching back and forth has been around since 1966 and now many people are wondering, what kind of impact all this clock changing   our health?”

According to the Dr. Phyllis C. Zee, with Northwestern Medical Group, the transition between standard time and DST can bring some not-so-fun consequences for our health. Losing just one hour of sleep might not sound like a big deal, but it can mess with your sleep patterns and circadian rhythms, wreaking havoc on your body and overall well-being. We’re talking serious stuff, especially when it comes to your cardiovascular health.

The exact reasons behind this increase in cardiovascular events during the time change are still a bit of a mystery. Researchers are on the case, trying to shed some light on this phenomenon. In fact, Northwestern Medicine has an article discussing some of the studies being done. Finding answers is a bit like a detective story, but instead of a crime, they’re investigating the effects of DST on different areas of our health.

As I just mentioned, when DST comes around, it can really mess with our sleep. We’ve all experienced those sleep disturbances, right? For some lucky folks, it’s just a day or two of grogginess. But for others, the effects can linger for weeks or even longer. It can throw off your sleep schedule, making it harder to fall asleep, cause frequent awakenings at night, or even wake you up too early in the morning, unable to fall back to sleep.

Circadian lighting, in essence, follows a “sunrise to sunset” cycle, according to which lights should be brighter and bluer in the morning (blue makes us feel alert), and warmer orange light that mimics dusk to facilitate sleep should be used in the evening.”
Oliver Heath

In the past decade, we’ve made remarkable progress in understanding sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms. However, there are still gaps in our knowledge regarding how changes in the social clock, such as DST shifts, interact with our biological clock and impact human health.

These sleep disruptions can lead to all sorts of not-so-fun side effects. Picture yourself feeling fatigued, groggy, irritable, and not exactly functioning at your cognitive best during the day. Accidents and work mishaps when you are tired and not thinking clearly So, essential that you prioritize good sleep habits during this adjustment period. Ease into the time change by gradually adjusting your sleep schedule a few days beforehand. Create a bedtime routine, which I recommend to all of my clients as a general rule, with some relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.

Daylight Savings Time and Cardiovascular Health

Aside from feeling tired it’s not just our sleep that’s affected. The transition into DST has been linked to a slight increase in cardiovascular events. We don’t have all the answers yet about why this happens, but the disruption to our sleep patterns and potential changes in our circadian rhythms could be playing a part. Researchers are actively working to uncover these connections and provide valuable insights for our well-being.

It’s important to actively take care of your heart health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques are important all year round, not just during DST.  If you have any concerns or questions regarding the impact of DST on your cardiovascular health, it’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance based on your unique circumstances.

Daylight Savings Time and Mental Health

Let’s talk about our mental health which is always an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss. Some studies suggest there might be a slight increase in depression and mood disturbances after the time change. A Danish study showed that DST can trigger mental illness, including bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. Everyone is affected by DST differently and awareness is the first step in managing our mental health.   Taking care of ourselves and practicing self-care, maintaining social connections, and seeking support if needed are key ingredients for a healthy mind, whether it’s DST or not.

Daylight Savings Time can sometimes throw a wrench into our productivity at work and at home. Be aware of potential disruptions and manage our expectations during this period. Time management strategies, taking breaks, and keeping open communication with colleagues and family members) can help us navigate any productivity challenges that might pop up.

Daylight Savings Time, Hormone and Immune Function

DST messes with our body’s internal clock and all those fancy biological processes tied to our circadian rhythm like hormone regulation and immune function.  Light at night affects our circadian rhythm throwing our sleep and immune response and metabolism off balance too.

T-cells which help protect the body from infection (and may help fight cancer) are night owls.  They kick into high gear when darkness falls, thanks to the secretion of the hormone melatonin.  This sleep hormone increases soon after it gets dark, peaks in the middle of the night, between 2 and 4 a.m., and gradually falls during the second half of the night.  Melatonin is replaced in the mornings by the release of cortisol and other hormones to help you wake up.

B-cells, your antibody-making champ prefer the daytime, and work alongside morning neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine to help you wake up. When these are out of sync, our immune response can go haywire, leading to infections. 

Daylight Savings Time and Metabolism

When it comes to our eating habits, timing matters. Research indicates that the timing of our meals plays a crucial role in maintaining metabolic health and body weight. People who eat earlier in the day tend to experience more weight loss compared to those who eat later. Eating during the body’s circadian cycle meant for sleep can disrupt certain bodily systems that are not prepared to handle food.  Keeping a steady beat with our sleep, eating habits, and exercise is key for a healthy metabolism.

When it comes to the effects of DST changes, it’s a mixed bag.  Each person may have a different experience.  However, by being mindful of potential disruptions and taking proactive steps to support your cardiovascular health can be beneficial.  While the scientific research gives us some clues about possible sleep issues, impacts on your heart, and mental well-being, we can’t draw final conclusions just yet. By prioritizing healthy sleep habits, understanding potential cardiovascular implications, and practicing self-care, you can navigate the transition in and out of DST with grace. Remember, your individual experiences and adjustments are key to maintaining balance and well-being throughout the year, DST or not.

Denise E. Stegall

Denise E. Stegall is the CEO and Curator of Healthy Living She has condensed 25 years of experience and study in nutrition, and cooking, including plant-based cooking, exercise, and coaching to help people enjoy happy and healthy lives. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Pennsylvania State University in Hotel, Restaurant, and Business Management with a focus on nutrition and has certifications in Health Coaching, Life Coaching, Nutrition, and Plant-Based Cooking. The Living Healthy List Method uses three pillars: Eat Real Food, Make Good Decisions, and Be Accountable.

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