The Healthiest Approach to Daylight Saving Time

Whether you’re upset about the lost hour or excited about the longer days, make sure the spring Daylight Savings change doesn’t mess with your health.

daylight saving time sleepiStock/megaflopp

Losing an hour of sleep—blech! Longer, sunnier days—yay! No matter how you feel, 70 to 80 percent of people don’t find their health significantly disrupted by the spring Daylight Saving switch, according to Shyam Subramian, MD, director of the sleep center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

For others—especially those who are already sleep-deprived—it can take longer to adjust. In such cases, that seemingly little hour of lost sleep can be a tipping point for an already-wonky body clock, making people feel the fatigue for a week or even longer. More startling: A Swedish study from 2008 reported an uptick in heart attacks during the first week after the spring Daylight Savings switch, possibly due to the body churning out more stress hormones and inflammatory compounds. Research from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University found that more fatal traffic accidents occurred on the Monday after the spring time change than on Monday in the weeks before and after Daylight Saving.

To ease the transition and stay as healthy as possible, experts suggest these gradual adjustments.

1. Inch back your bedtime. Go to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night for a few days before the switch so you give your body time to adjust.

2. Set your clock ahead before you go to sleep. It’s better to move your clock forward at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. so you lose the hour while you’re awake, Health magazine advises. Then go to bed at your normal time, on the new schedule.

3. Clean your sleep routine. Use the time change as an opportunity for a more regular sleep schedule, according to Health. Instead of hitting snooze repeatedly, drag yourself out of bed when the alarm goes off and start your day. Getting up and exposed to daylight cues your internal clock to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. “If you’re maintaining good sleep habits, this is just one day out of the year to worry about, and then it’s back to normal,” Sharin Shafazand, MD, associate professor of medicine at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told the Miami Herald.

4. Feel free to caffeinate. If you’re groggy in the morning after the time change, fuel up on coffee to jolt you awake. Multiple studies show coffee is good for you: Java intake is linked to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few. For most people, consuming caffeine early in the day shouldn’t interfere with nodding off at night.

5. Don’t overschedule. Especially if you’re sensitive to the time change, take it easy those first few days, according to Doing too much will just exacerbate the fatigue you’re already feeling. Keeping a light schedule and trying to minimize stress will make it easier for you to go to sleep at your usual time, which helps your body adjust to the time change.

6. Be extra vigilant on the road. Losing an hour of sleep—and the drowsiness it can trigger—can make for more dangerous driving for you and others, especially in the few days following the daylight savings switch. Mornings will be darker than usual, too. Although it’s never safe to drive and chat or text, it’s especially important to avoid distractions now.

7. Change all your watches and clocks. Nothing will throw you off more than being an hour late to a meeting or appointment because you forgot to switch, says

8. Take advantage of your longer evenings. Instead of feeling down about losing an hour of sleep and waking up in the dark, know that a later sunset also means that summer is getting closer! Use that extra hour of daylight at night to do something healthy for your mind or body. Go for a neighborhood stroll after dinner with your partner or a friend, or sit outside (on a warmer night) with a good book or magazine to relax.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest