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Daylight Savings – What Exactly Are We Doing to Our Bodies?

Daylight Savings MiamiThis Sunday at 2 A.M., Daylight Savings Time will end and our clocks will once again be set back one hour — but how will your health fare?

According to Oregon Health and Science University’s Dr. Alfred Lewy, research has shown that traffic accidents noticeably increase for a week following the Daylight Savings changes in both spring and fall.

In addition, Swedish researchers have discovered a link between heart attacks and the time change. Their findings show a lower rate of heart attacks in the days following “fall back” and a higher rate of heart attacks following “spring forward.” A co-author of this study, Rickard Ljung, MD, PhD, says that the higher rate of heart attacks on Mondays in general might not just be due to the stress of people returning to work, but also related to their natural sleep rhythms which have been disturbed. Since there were found to be less heart attacks on the Monday following clocks being set back an hour, it appears that one extra hour of sleep can be very beneficial for your health.

Research has linked sleep deprivation to increased risks for high blood pressure, obesity, and inflammation, which are all risk factors for heart attacks. The disruption of our body’s circadian rhythms can directly deprive us of sleep.

A study in the British Medical Journal has found that people are less likely to engage in outdoor activities in the afternoon when the clocks are set forward, since we essentially lose an hour of light at the end of the day. The author of this study, Mayer Hillman, conducted a study regarding Daylight Savings and time zones in Scotland. He estimates that humans could create about 300 more hours of daylight a year by not setting the clock back in autumn, but continuing to set it forward in spring.

“It must be rare to find a means of vastly improving the health and well-being of nearly everyone in the population, and at no cost,” says Hillman. “And here we have it.”

There are large movements in other countries to end Daylight Savings Time, especially in countries in Northern Europe where the difference in darkness is even more pronounced. Supporters of getting rid of Daylight Savings say that not only would people be encouraged to get out in the fresh air more, but it would boost Vitamin D levels and help combat national obesity. It’s a possibility that the earlier darkness we impose on ourselves may be sending us into hibernation mode.

According to Martha Daviglus, MD, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, there is definitely evidence that chronic sleep deprivation has a negative impact on the heart, but is not necessarily convinced that isolated events like Daylight Savings Time make much of an impact. She doesn’t want people to think that they’re going to have a heart attack because they lost one hour of sleep, and says that the quality of sleep is very important — not just the number of hours.

Indeed, we don’t want anyone to have a heart attack from worrying too much about the Daylight Savings Time change. So, in all practicality, what can you do when the clocks are set back this Sunday?

To help your body adjust to the change, Dr. Alfred Lewy recommends staying in bed with your eyes closed, even if you can’t sleep, for an extra hour for a couple days after the change. He also recommends keeping your bedroom as dark as possible to block the sunlight outside from influencing your sleep rhythm.

Daylight Savings Time as we know it today wasn’t embraced internationally until the first half of the 20th century when countries began enacting it to conserve coal, but with modern heating and cooling patterns some researchers say Daylight Savings Time may be creating more energy need and therefore greater pollution and carbon emissions.

Even though software today can update electronic clocks automatically, DST can still complicate meetings, travel, billing, record-keeping, and medical devices. Are the benefits (extra daylight for retailing, sports, and afternoon events) worth the possible risks to our health, and the hassle of readjusting our body’s clocks twice a year?

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