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Interestingly, the daylight saving time system has caused controversy for this very reason since it was introduced across Europe in the early 20th century. In 2019, the European parliament actually voted to scrap the turning of the clocks, in light of a survey that suggested 84% of European citizens wanted it to end.
In the UK however, the clocks continue to change to support farmers around the country who need more light during their working day to grow and tend to crops.
The effects the turning of the clock has on our natural sleep cycles are central to the health concerns linked to it.
“…gaining or losing of an hour – and subsequent change to our routines – can wreak havoc on our health”
According to health experts and biologists, humans have natural physical, behavioral and mental responses to the Earth’s 24-hour movement around the sun. This is often referred to as a ‘biological clock’, or the circadian rhythm. These are primarily linked to light and dark, and are replicated across various species of animals, fish and insects which all, in their own way, follow a routine which is linked to the rising and setting of the sun within a 24-hour day.
Disruptions to these rhythms – and a person’s exposure to a learnt routine of light and darkness – can mean a whole host of unwanted behavioral, psychological and physical effects; ranging from mood swings, to lethargy, to insomnia.
Changes to sleep patterns can massively impact our mental and physical health. Studies show that cutting just one hour of sleep from our optimum sleep time (usually between six and eight hours for adults) can result in mood changes, drowsiness, headaches, inability to focus, depression and anxiety.
“Losing an hour of sleep on the night the clock’s go back could throw a person off balance not just the following day, but potentially for the entire week”, one expert explains. “This is especially true for people with busy lifestyles, like parents, full-time workers and students. These people may not have the ability to ‘catch up’ the following evening or subsequent evenings and will be sleep-deprived for days to come as a result”.
Additionally, the loss of sleep can have severe impacts on physical health.
“Losing an hour of sleep on the night the clock’s go back could throw a person off balance not just the following day, but potentially for the entire week”
“Numerous research has linked sleep-deprivation with increased chances of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke”, he says.
One 2019 study by Harvard Medical School examined the impact of sleep deficiency on heart disease. Researchers studied mice and found that consistently sleep-disturbed mice are more likely to develop plaques on their arteries than those with normal sleeping patterns.
And in the US, hospital reports show a 24 percent spike in heart attack visits every year on the Monday that follows clock changes.
When it comes to adjusting sleep patterns, it is harder for people to adjust to clocks going forward as opposed to going back, generally. This is because we effectively lose an hour rather than gain one. This can result in people sleeping an hour less than usual – if they retain the same bedtime – or attempting to get to sleep an hour earlier than usual, which can make falling asleep harder and increase wakefulness and the risk of insomnia.
While the clocks ‘springing forward’ in March increases how light the evenings are, waking up first thing and heading to work in the dark is not only disruptive to our sense of routine, but also means many of us lose vital access to sunlight – and the vitamin D it provides – in the morning.
Increased darkness can result in a low mood, fatigue and increased depression in certain people, and a lack of vitamin D has also been linked to weakened bones and muscle pain.
In some cases, people can also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder if they do not have regular exposure to sunlight.
According to our expert, “common symptoms of SAD include a low mood, lack of energy, irritability and heightened feelings of depression and anxiety”.
SAD is particularly prevalent after the clocks go forward for those who are usually out and about first thing in the morning – such as people who work late, for instance.
There are many things people can do to get ready for the clocks going forward, as well as ways to adjust to environmental shifts linked to the change.
“Practicing good sleep hygiene is important around any time zone changes,” says our expert. “This means creating a bedroom environment that promotes comfortable, uninterrupted sleep.”
“[Create] a bedroom environment that promotes comfortable, uninterrupted sleep.”
Sleep experts suggest separating space where you sleep to spaces where you do other activities. Avoid working, watching television or eating meals in bed, as this can make you subconsciously associate ‘awake activities’ with your bed, rather than sleep. This can make falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Screen time in general stimulates the senses and causes us to feel more awake. Avoid being on your phone or in front of a screen at least an hour before you need to go to sleep.
Promoting good sleep hygiene means blocking out any distractions when you’re in your bedroom. One of the biggest ways to focus on this is to block out light and sounds which could prevent you from getting asleep, or disturb your sleep.
“Try to avoid constantly checking your phone or watch for the time,” are expert says. “This can make you panic about how many hours you do or don’t have left to sleep. Once you’re in bed, put your phone and any time-telling equipment away for the day so you can avoid obsessing.”
Exercising can drastically improve sleep quality, and make it easier to fall asleep without pressure – which is ideal if trying to bring your usual bedtime forward.
“Morning exercise can improve your sleep in the evening”, says our expert. “Avoid heavy exercise close to bedtime, as adrenaline and endorphins naturally released by exercise can make you feel more awake. Instead, try some gentle movement, like yoga and gentle pilates rather than anything that’s going to get your heart rate up”.