5 ‘Fall Back’ Hacks to Help Your Health

As a kid, I loved Daylight Saving Time. It meant an additional hour of playing outdoors in the summer before having to go inside and get ready for bed.

As an adult, I’m not so sure. I know a lot of people would prefer to stay with the same time year ‘round.

The Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center combined to conduct a poll on this subject. They discovered the vast majority of Americans want the biannual practice of changing clocks ended. 

Seventy-one percent said they prefer to keep their clocks steady throughout the year. Only 28 percent said they wished to continue springing forward and falling back each year.

There was less of a consensus among the 71 percent regarding which time to stick with. Forty percent said they wanted to stay on Standard. Thirty-one percent said Daylight. Some studies show permanent Standard to be optimal.

Time Changes Disrupt Sleep

Other than the hassle of changing clocks – most of which is done automatically these days – why are most people against time changes?

There are several reasons. Including those pertaining to health. For one thing, research has shown time changes negatively affect sleeping patterns.

 Dr. Phyllis Zee is a sleep researcher at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. She said changing time interrupts sleep schedules. And can worsen problems sleep-deprived people already suffer. Time changes are also linked to heart problems.

Under federal law, states can choose to remain on Standard Time year ‘round. So far, only Hawaii and Arizona have chosen to do so. Legislation on this subject is frequently proposed in other states. 

Fewer Z’s = Health Issues

Let’s take a closer look at the effects of time changes on sleep. One study found that in the week following the spring switch to Daylight Saving Time, teenagers slept about 2.5 hours less than the previous week.

Sleep disruptions were less severe for older Americans, but were still prevalent. Even without time changes, one in three U.S. adults sleeps less than the recommended seven to eight hours per night.

Getting less sleep than necessary – known as chronic sleep deprivation – has health problems written all over it. Including serious ones.

 Levels of stress hormones are increased when we don’t get enough sleep. And that can result in higher heart rates. And higher blood pressure readings.

The Heart of the Matter

Speaking of hearts, some studies have shown heart problems can increase on Mondays after clocks move forward in the spring. 

Barry Franklin is director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

He says the increased risk for heart issues related to time changes are mainly in individuals already vulnerable due to existing heart problems.

By the time the fall time change comes, most of those vulnerable people will return to their original baseline risk.  

Internal Clocks Don’t Change 

An increased number of car crashes has been connected to time changes. A German study found an increase in fatalities in the week after the start of Daylight Saving Time. But no such increase in the fall.

Poor performances on alertness tests are also linked to time changes. These are both short-lived effects, but they can be troublesome when they occur.

Circadian biologists point to the disruption of our internal clocks when explaining why so many have problems adjusting to time changes. Our biological clocks are set to exposure to sunlight and darkness. And every cell keeps track of time.

Those clocks regulate a number of bodily functions. Some of which are negatively affected by time changes and our behavioral adjustments to those changes.

Even a mismatch of one hour daily over a period of time can wreak havoc on some of us. It can trigger stress, disorientation and memory loss. Overall cognitive function can be affected. As can social interactions.

A Push to Banish Time Changes

Some of those who prefer Daylight Saving Time (regardless of whether it’s biannual or constant) state they dislike driving home after work in the dark during winter.

Others claim depression sets in when the switch is made from Daylight to Standard Time. Which makes sense. We spend less time in the sun in winter, and low levels of Vitamin D are linked to low mood.     

Lack of sunlight also suppresses production of serotonin, which can play a key role in mood balance. One study showed hospitals reporting 11 percent more depressive symptoms immediately after the fall time change.

Some sleep scientists and circadian biologists push for a permanent ban of time changes across the country. They believe any positive effects resulting from time changes are far outweighed by negatives.

Tips for Time Change Adjustments

 Here are a few tips for avoiding time change pitfalls.

  • Make a gradual shift. Start going to bed and getting up 10-15 minutes earlier or later (depending on the specific time change) several days before the change.
  • Stick to your sleep schedule. Once the change has occurred, go to bed and get up at normal times.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene. Sleep in a cool room with no TV or computer screen distractions.
  • Get out in the sun. Soak in that Vitamin D when you can, even if it’s just for a short walk.
  • Limit caffeine intake. Especially in the afternoon. Eliminate it at night.

How do you feel about biannual time changes, including the one coming up in a few days?

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Brandy Creel - November 2, 2021

Interesting article. I find that no clock changes were conducive to healthier and happy life having lived in Arizona for several years. Since moving to a spring forward and fall back clock I find unrest for the month. Thanks for your suggestions.

Steve Wilhelm - November 2, 2021

Some people believe the time change was initiated to help farmers. That is laughable. Having grown up in farm country, I can assure everyone that cows need to be milked at the same (biological) time the day after our wall clocks change, i.e., 24 physical hours later. And planting or harvesting occurs during daylight, no matter what the clock says.

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