In early 2022, the Senate passed a new act called the Sunshine Protection Act. If passed by the House and signed into law by President Biden, daylight saving time (DST) would become permanent in November 2023.
Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time and How Does it Affect Your Health?
Daylight saving time (the "spring forward" schedule) alters our standard time by one hour to preserve longer hours of daylight. It was first instituted in the United States as the Standard Time Act in 1918. Although often thought to be for the benefit of farmers, this Act was actually passed during World War I as a wartime effort to help conserve energy and resources. Over the years, some states appealed, but currently, all states except Arizona and Hawaii follow the DST schedule.
One of the biggest concerns over the twice-yearly time switch are the changes to sleep patterns and sleep quality. Shifting our clocks can alter our circadian rhythm and affect sleep homeostasis — the desire to sleep. Adjusting your sleep cycle every year can bring about broader health issues such as slower metabolism, deteriorating mental health, headaches, increased weight gain and more.
What Happens if the Sunshine Protection Act is Passed?
If this Act becomes law, our clocks will permanently stay an hour ahead of standard time. While this change may bring some positives, such as potentially more daylight exposure throughout the year, some health experts have highlighted their concerns: In 2020, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) published their position on daylight saving time. They recommended that the U.S. adopt standard time permanently, which would provide more early morning light.
According to their statement, switching from standard time to DST increases stroke risk, cardiovascular-related issues like atrial fibrillation, hospital visits and more. While there hasn't been a year-long study of chronic issues from DST, the AASM concludes that "DST is less well-aligned with intrinsic human circadian physiology" and not necessarily the optimum time schedule for our health.
While we wait to see if the House pushes this bill through, we still have an upcoming time change to prepare for.
Handling Time Adjustments
Whether we're "springing forward" or "falling back", try some of these tips to keep a consistent nighttime routine and sleep schedule:
- Stick to your time-frame. Do you go to bed at the same time every night? Or do you unwind at a certain time? If not, begin now. Training your body to sleep and wake up at specific times can help your mind and body adjust to time changes.
- Put away electronics. Prolonged exposure to screens, especially before going to bed can make it difficult for your mind to relax and let you fall asleep. Charge your phone across the room to help you get away from your screen. It may also help you wake up to your alarm in the morning.
- Eat dinner at the same time. This is especially important around time changes. What we eat and when we eat directly affects our sleep cycle and sleep quality. Eat a healthy meal full of vegetables and lean protein at least three hours before bed. Try to eat at the same time consistently throughout the week.
- Go outside. Time changes affect the amount of daylight we experience at certain times of the year. Prioritize getting sunlight when you wake up in order to help your body and circadian rhythm adjust to the time change.
Good or bad, time changes affect us all. Prioritize your sleep – and your health – as we approach the "fall back" time of year, and see how much easier your transition can be.
This article first appeared in the October 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.