Why do we turn the clocks backwards and forwards?
Daylight Savings Time is quite controversial these days and, unfortunately, a lot of the blame for its creation goes to farmers. This is a bit of a myth really as daylight savings time was initially introduced in the UK in 1916 during the First World War as part of the ‘Summertime Act’ to make the most of the daylight.
This wasn’t the first time the idea has been brought to public attention, though – William Willett campaigned for most of his life to introduce this new timekeeping system and, decades earlier in the US, Benjamin Franklin was keen on the idea as a means to save money on candles.
These days the relevance of moving the clocks forwards in spring and then back again in winter is highly debated for many reasons, but today I want to look at how this change can affect your sleep patterns and health overall, and what you can do to prepare for that dreaded ‘missing hour’.
How does changing the clocks impact our health?
When it comes to changing the clocks, most of us groan in March, lamenting the loss of an hour’s sleep, but we don’t really question the wider ramifications that this can have for our health. As it turns out, this missing hour of sleep could possibly be responsible for a lot more than symptoms like grogginess and fatigue.
For a start, if you already have problems getting to sleep or regularly suffer from sleep deprivation, then this missing hour will definitely make your workday more difficult to deal with. In fact, the clocks springing forward in March could be costing businesses in the upwards of millions, according to a report by SleepBetter.org.1 This is in part due to reduced levels of productivity, but is also related to an increase in work-related accidents.
This makes sense to a degree – if you’re drowsy and unable to focus cohesively then you’re not going to be at your best at work. You might find yourself getting easily distracted or even nodding off where you sit! However, forgetting the office space for the moment, these symptoms could have wider repercussions when it comes to our ability to drive; as it turns out, unfortunately, work-related mishaps aren’t the only types of accidents on the rise the Monday after the clocks spring forward.
A study conducted by Stanford University back in 2001 found that sleep deprivation on the Monday following the changes in Daylight Savings Time correlated with an increase in fatal accidents.2 Again, this does make sense when you think about it – if you’re driving on less than 5-6 hours of sleep then it can actually impact your ability to drive on a level comparable with intoxication.3
Who’s the most at risk?
6 steps to help your body clock to spring forwards
1. Get your sleep patterns into a routine
We all know roughly when the clocks are going to change – it’s normally around the same time every year. This gives us an advantage in that we can try to prepare our body for this upcoming change. Now, I don’t generally recommend any sudden, drastic alterations to your sleep patterns – slow and steady is definitely the best way to go here!
Starting the week before the clocks spring forwards, you could try adjusting your bedtime each evening very slightly; begin by going to bed just 5 minutes earlier than normal and make sure you adjust the time you usually wake up to reflect this. Gradually, each night, increase this time until, hopefully, by Sunday night you should be heading to bed around 45 minutes to an hour earlier than usual, which should have given your body enough to time to adjust to this new rhythm.
2. Adjust your weekend routine
It’s all very well and good making the effort to change your sleep routine during the week but this can easily be upheaved at the weekend; whether it’s a night out with friends or a catch-up with family, all of us have the tendency to throw our usual sleep habits out of the window on a Friday and Saturday night.
However, doing so on the weekend before the clocks change could prove to be disastrous for your sleep patterns on Sunday night, compounding any issues you may experience on Monday morning. That’s why I’d suggest keeping things nice and relaxed the weekend of the clock change – use it as an excuse to indulge in some ‘me-time’, whether that’s having some quality time with a good book or catching up on some household chores. This should help to put you in a more relaxed frame of mind come Sunday evening.
3. Cut the caffeine
Ah caffeine – the answer to all those pesky groggy symptoms…or not! If you’re feeling a bit drowsy on Sunday, a cup of tea or coffee is probably the first point of call to shake off those irritating symptoms. Unfortunately, while this may give you some short-term relief, the long-term repercussions really aren’t worth it. To start with, most caffeinated drinks these days are loaded with sugar, which means that at some point on Sunday night or Monday morning, your blood glucose levels are going to plummet, enhancing feelings of fatigue and creating all sorts of unhealthy cravings.
It doesn’t help that caffeine can also deplete your stores of crucial sleep-boosting minerals, like magnesium, and acts as a mild diuretic which means that, on top of sleep deprivation, you may also have to contend with dehydration. Not a winning combination! That’s why I’d suggest examining when you’re drinking those fateful cuppas – remember that caffeine can easily linger in your system for 6 hours! – so you really want to avoid turning to it later in the afternoon, after 2pm. If you really do feel fatigued after this time, you might fare better turning to a more natural energy-boosting beverage, such as our Balance Mineral Drink.
4 – Ditch the devices
Do you find yourself scrolling through social media sites like Facebook or Instagram when you should be trying to doze off? If so, you’re definitely not alone! It’s never been easier to stay connected with the world around us and, while this is normally a good thing, there are times when it can be to our detriment. Laptops, smartphones, televisions and tablets can all easily disrupt your natural sleep cycle as they emit a blue light wave that can interfere with your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. As a result, you’ll feel more awake and alert just as you’re trying to nod off, which is definitely not what you want if you already know you’re going to be losing an hour of sleep. That’s why I’d suggest switching all of your devices off at least an hour before going to bed!
5 – Embrace the light
One of the good things about March is that you can finally see signs of spring, from the sudden influx of crocuses and daffodils to the lighter evenings and slightly better weather. Natural light is the best regulator of your body’s circadian rhythm (its ‘internal clock’), so why not make the most of these positives by spending a bit more time outdoors? A gentle walk during the day will do wonders for stabilising your production of cortisol (the steroid hormone that helps to increase feelings of wakefulness) and may just boost your mood at the same time. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this exposure to the sunshine will increase your vitamin D levels too!
6 – Don’t be afraid to tackle your sleep problems
If you do already suffer from sleep problems such as broken sleep, insomnia or simply being a ‘night owl’ then getting a good night’s sleep at a decent time can prove to be really difficult. Often, an underlying problem like stress can be at the root of your restless nights so you might want to consider taking steps to address this first. I talk quite extensively about how to tackle stress over at A.Vogel Talks Stress, where I elaborate on contributory factors, tips to relieve your anxiety and how you can go about supporting your nervous system.
If you feel as though stress is eating away at your ability to get a good night’s sleep, you could also try our gentle sleep remedy Dormeasan. Prepared using a combination of Valerian and Hops, this tincture quickly helps to relax your nervous system. I’d recommend taking this in the week leading up to the clock change just to make sure you’re getting into a good sleep pattern.
(Originally published 25/03/14. updated 11/03/19)