Ester Marsh column: Issues come with switch to daylight savings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2022

I don’t know about you, but this one hour change affects me tremendously! It’s really amazing to have one hour mess up your biological clock. I do love that it stays light longer and this too will pass and my body will adjust. It is easier, for most people, to adjust to an added hour or hours than when you are losing time. But in the spring we move forward and lose that hour of sleep.

Whenever the time changes, or even when you cross different time zones, you mess with your biological clock. It is an internal biological clock that regulates the timing for sleep in humans. The activity of this clock makes us sleepy at night and awake during the day. Our clock cycles an approximately 24-hour period. This biological clock is also involved in controlling reproductive cycles in some animals through its ability to track information about the changing lengths of daylight and darkness during a year. Did you know that we spend about one third of our lives asleep? Sleep is a required activity, not an option. Sleep actually appears to be required for survival. Rats deprived of sleep will die within two to three weeks, a time frame similar to death due to starvation. No wonder that one hour can affect us!

A misconception about sleep is that the body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules. The biological clock that times and controls a person’s sleep/wake cycle will attempt to function according to a normal day/night schedule even when that person is trying to change it. The biological clock can be reset, but only by the appropriately timed cues, but, even then, by one or two hours per day at best. When I fly to the Netherlands, I lose six hours. So, when I arrive at 8 a.m. Dutch time, it is 2 a.m. in N.C. And guess what I normally do at 2 a.m.? Sleep! But when you arrive, it is daylight, which makes it very hard to go to sleep, or even to feel sleepy. Later on that day, due to sleep deprivation, you (at least I do) will crash. Sleep deprivation can produce a number of unwanted effects including excessive sleepiness, poor sleep, loss of concentration, poor motor control, slowed reflexes, nausea and irritability. In the fall when we set our time back, it is easier to adjust to that one hour change due to the fact you are gaining time. The same is the case with eastward travel — it generally causes more severe jetlag than westward travel. (When you travel east you lose time, when you travel west, you gain time)

For some people, one hour change does not really make a difference, and for some people (like me) it makes a huge difference. This is what helps me: Get up at the usual time. If that is 5 a.m., then get up at 5. My biological clock says it is 4 a.m. By getting up and starting your day you will get in the swing of things within a couple of days. Of course, it helps when it is light outside to start your day early. It’s as important for you go to bed at the same time you usually do. With this one hour change, you might not be “tired” but get to bed anyway. In a couple of days to a week, you will be used to the time change. While traveling over time zones, especially in a plane, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol. On arrival (and return), make sure you eat a well-balanced diet and hydrate your body appropriately. Limit alcohol consumption as it does not promote good sleep. Consuming alcohol in the evening can also make sleep apnea problems worse. And last, but definitely not least, exercise! Again, it is proven that exercise has all these positive effects on your body and mind!

Ester H. Marsh is health & fitness director of JF Hurley YMCA.