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Springing Forward Can Be Bad for Your Health

Heads up! The change is coming Sunday.

Twice a year, the United States—along with 70 other countries—goes through the semi-annual ritual of changing our clocks back and forth when we switch from standard time (ST) to daylight saving time (DST) or vice versa. People may grouse about it, but then shrug and think, “It’s only an hour.”

Think losing an hour of sleep is no big deal? Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach have some information to share with you that might change your mind.

 

Health consequences

As it turns out, it’s not that easy for the body to adjust to a new schedule, as frequent fliers can tell you.

 

“The circadian rhythm influences numerous bodily functions including metabolic, physiologic, and behavioral changes,” Dr. Teshamae Monteith, an assistant professor of clinical neurology, told CBS News.

 

Some of the health consequences that have been attributed to the spring switch include:

  • increased stroke and heart attack risk
  • increased accident rate
  • decreased cognitive ability
  • increased accident rate, both while driving and in the workplace
  • increased suicide rate
  • increased rates of several types of cancer
  • increased insulin resistance

 

Christopher Barnes, an associate professor of management at the University of Washington who researches the impact of sleep deprivation, told CNN that, because Americans are already sleep deprived, this one-hour change can result in significant impacts.

“When we change the time by one hour, it throws a monkey wrench into our circadian process,” he said. (The circadian process regulates body rhythms.)

 

For example:

  • One 2009 study reviewed mining injuries over a 20-year period and found that, not only did injuries increase by 5.7 percent on the Monday following the switch to DST, but the injuries were more severe than normal.
  • A 2018 study showed a six percent increase in vehicle crashes on the Monday after clocks were moved forward, with an additional 300 deaths.
  • Another study in 2016 found that the rate of strokes jumped by eight percent in the two days following the change to DST. Researchers also found that people older than 65 were 20 percent more likely to have a stroke, and those battling cancer saw a 25 percent increase in strokes.
  • A 2012 study associated the time change to a 10 percent increase and heart attacks, while a 2015 study found a higher incidence of suicides.
  • One study even suggested that the change to DST affects the success rate of in vitro fertilization by inducing more miscarriages following implantation.

 

Proponents of each time

Although surveys show that over 70 percent of the public wants to end the twice-yearly switching back and forth, opinion is about evenly split on whether to stick to standard time or DST.

While experts claim we can get used to the new time within a few days at the most, some people claim they never adjust to the summer hours, because our bodies expect noon to be when the sun is highest in the sky. The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms comes down squarely against DST, declaring, “Our body’s internal biological clock needs exposure to morning sunlight” to prevent the negative effects mentioned above.

Jay Pea, a freelance software engineer and amateur astronomer, agrees. He started the non-profit Save Standard Time website to argue for keeping standard time permanent, and argues that it’s a human need to have the sun directly overhead at noon.

Daylight saving time, he told NBC News, “distances us from the natural world.”

Others can’t wait for the time switch in the spring. They have more daylight hours available after work to enjoy the outdoors, they claim, or can at least stop driving home in the dark. Those associated with recreational activities—golf courses, sporting goods retailers, and the like—also appreciate the extra evening sunlight, which is good for business.

 

How to adjust

Until the government and the public decide to stop this semi-annual practice, we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. So we suggest you take the following steps to minimize the impact of the time change.

  1. This week, gradually begin going to bed a few minutes earlier each night and waking up a few minutes earlier in the morning. Also, try to begin moving mealtimes closer to the new time.
  2. Expose yourself to bright light during the day—especially sunlight in the early morning—to help your body reset its circadian clock, and reduce ambient lighting during the evening.
  3. Practice good sleep hygiene: Turn off blue-light devices (television, computer, smartphones) at least an hour before retiring; avoid caffeine after lunch; keep your bedroom dark and cool.
  4. Finally, spend more time outdoors if possible, as Dr. Alon Avidan, a professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, suggested to ABC news.

 

“The less connected you are to natural cycles of darkness and light, the harder it is to adjust to the time change,” he said.

 

And, as always, if you’re having difficulty with this or any other sleep issue, be sure to let us know.

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