Daylight Saving: How time changes affect our health, plus simple tips to help your body adjust
Daylight Saving Restoring Equilibrium.
It’s that time of the year again where the Daylight Saving time change can negatively affect our health. Let’s look at why plus simple tips to help your body adjust.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) is the practice of moving the clocks forward one hour from standard time (GMT) in the spring and moving them back again in the autumn to make better use of natural daylight. “Spring forward and fall back” is the way I remember what to do!
How and when did the clock changes come about?
Whilst there had been some earlier ad-hoc practices, it was Germany that introduced it across the whole country in 1916. The UK introduced the practice during the Second World War to structure the working day around the best daylight available and to conserve energy for the war effort.
Today, about one billion people globally – over a quarter of the World’s population, change their clocks. Whilst it has its critics and has been shown to have a negative impact on health, the UK Government has yet to make any further decisions about ending this practice.
What impact can a simple one-hour time change have on our health?
Our body thrives by staying in tune with its natural circadian rhythms. These rhythms regulate so many of our body processes, and in particular our sleep/wake cycle.
This internal body clock is extremely sensitive to changes. We notice this with jet lag when we travel through several time zones.
Moving the clocks forward or back by one hour upsets this internal rhythm, and it has been shown to have a profound impact on our sleep, the quality of our sleep and our wakefulness.
It can influence our metabolic balance and contribute to obesity. Why? Because appetite regulation, hormones found in our gut are affected by sleep quality. Less sleep, and it creates an increase in the hormone ghrelin that makes us feel hungry; and reduces leptin, which makes us feel full.
Clock genes have been discovered in the body, with a large number in the intestines. Changing our internal clock has been shown to negatively impact digestion, motility, absorption and the hugely influential gut microbiota. IBS and IBD can flare-up at these times of year.
“Spring forward” Health Impact
A Swedish study has found a link to an increased risk of heart attacks in the first week after transitioning the clocks in the Spring.
For workers, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports an increased risk and severity of work place accidents; coupled with an increased risk of accidents whilst commuting.
“Fall back” Health Impact
Losing an hour of sunlight in the afternoons can have an impact on our mental health.
The Winter sees an increase in seasonal depression (SAD) in the weeks following the clock change. For some this may settle over the following weeks, but for others it is a real and serious consequence of the long dark nights.
Decreased sunlight may lower levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin associated with our mood. This is known as our “happy chemical”. Some people notice an increase in anxiety, irritability and feelings of hopelessness when the clocks go back.
It may also lower levels of the hormone melatonin that regulates our sleep/wake cycle.
Let’s not also forget during these winter months with minimal exposure to appropriate sunshine and UVB rays, that we have a poor intake of vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for so many body functions, especially immunity and bone status. It is essential to supplement Vitamin D3 October to April.
Take action now to protect your health
It’s essential to maintain regular sleeping habits by going to bed and getting up at the same time.
If getting to sleep is a problem, create an evening routine. Remove tech from the bedroom; reduce exposure to blue light from gadgets in the hours approaching bedtime, and don’t nap in the daytime. Watch the bedroom temperature by keeping it cooler than you would want during daytime.
Exercise is important, but don’t undertake high intensity exercise late afternoons and evenings as it can keep you awake. Mornings are best for this.
Your body sets its rhythms in large part by exposure to light. The pineal gland in the brain controls melatonin release in response to daylight. Research has shown it is important to get outdoors first thing in the morning for at least 10 minutes, especially in the Winter months. Ideally a short walk or just being outside with exposure to daylight helps to establish the circadian rhythms.
Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. Avoid caffeine after 4pm, possibly by midday. Aim for several alcohol-free nights. And always stay well hydrated.
Choose foods that help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and help to keep your mood stable. I have written about this many times before. The key points are to ensure sufficient protein intake with every meal and snack (choose); avoid refined carbohydrates; and keep your vegetable intake high. Nuts, chicken, turkey and eggs are all good sources of the amino acid tryptophan which is a building block for the production of.
Do read my article first published for Woman and Home for further tips on how to avoid excess tiredness.
Finally, if you feel your mood continues to suffer through the long Winter months, consider phytotherapy and choose a light therapy box to help recalibrate the brain and neurotransmitter levels. Thirty minutes use a day could make all the difference between being happy and sad!
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