About 70 countries world wide observe the annual, legislated ritual of daylight savings time (DST). There has been a great deal of controversy over its benefits and drawbacks. Many jurisdictions have opted in and out or modified the dates or their boundaries over the years. Yet the practice continues. Many people oppose this practice, and with good reason. Yet there are benefits to our brains if we know how to adjust.
Daylight Savings Time can have Extreme Negative Effects on our Brain
The most obvious impact of getting up one hour earlier is that we are more tired in the morning. However, studies show that the effects last not only in the morning but throughout the day and into the next two days as well.
Many sleep experts believe that as a society we are chronically sleep deprived. So, when we switch to DST we are deprived of yet another hour’s sleep which compounds an already unhealthy situation.
In addition to that, the switch to DST happens on the weekend when many of us stay up a bit later already making it feel like we are getting up two hours earlier.
Diminished Reaction Time
Being overtired leads to diminished reaction time. One study found that being sleep deprived produced the same effects as over-consumption of alcohol.
Lack of Will Power and Motivation
We each have a built-in clock that is our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our hypothalamus. That is a part of the brain that, among other things, monitors our nervous system. For example, it receives signals from our body if it is hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, hot, frightened, etc.
When we are overtired these signals to and from that region of the brain are delayed causing our will power and motivation to suffer. One study found that people spent more time idly browsing the internet in the immediate period after the switch to DST.
Poor judgement is also a result of the delayed response of our brain’s signals. For example, a study found that fatigue causes people to make poorer choices around food. This results in both eating too much from lack of will power and choosing less healthy food because of poor judgement.
Depression is an illness that is closely related to sleep patterns. Even a one hour change in sleep patterns has been shown to increase the effects of depression.
Other Health Risks
Apart from brain health there are other health risks associated with DST. They include an increased number of heart attacks, strokes, workplace injuries, automobile accidents and miscarriages in the first day to 3 days following the switch.
Although not related to brain health, there is also an economic impact. There is also the cost of reminding everyone to change their clocks. All the time it takes people to change the clocks and the idle time spent by employees surfing the net adds up financially.
Another study showed the results of DST on the stock market and pegged the financial impact at billions of dollars.
Then there’s the huge overhead required to write and maintain the software in computers around the world to adjust for the time change.
Brain Benefits of going to Daylight Savings Time
Gosh, is there any benefit to our brain in going to DST? Well, I believe a case can still be made for the switch. Although there are immediate drawbacks at the time the switch occurs the long-term benefits are strong.
Lifts our Spirits
The purpose of the shift is to provide us with extra daylight in the evening allowing us to spend more of that evening time outside. Sunlight is great for our brain. One of the things that occur in our brain when it is exposed to sunlight is the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as our ‘feel good’ hormone and may help us to feel calmer and more focused.
One of the most important behaviors for maintaining brain fitness is physical movement. Being outside benefits our brain by allowing more time for leisure activities like walking, biking, golfing and gardening. All of which benefit our brain.
Social interaction is key to a healthy brain and after winter’s semi-seclusion getting outside is a great brain boost. We spend more time chatting with our neighbors, playing outside with the kids or having outdoor get-togethers with friends.
To make the conversation complete let’s consider some of the non-brain related benefits.
First off is the safety. More daylight in the evenings provides better visibility both for automobile and pedestrian traffic. A study found that robberies dropped after switching to DST.
There are economic benefits too in the form of increased tourism spending as people are more inclined to go to restaurants, shopping and outdoor events.
How to Make a Smooth Transition
Whether we agree with DST or not, it is with us for now. So how can we make the transition as smooth as possible for our brain health and well being so that we can reap the long-term benefits of the additional daylight in the evenings?
- Be sure not to go into the weekend overtired.
Get as much sleep as you can in the week leading up to the switch. Compare sleeping with eating. If we have been eating well for a few days, then one day we could eat our lunch an hour later and we may not notice it much. But, if over the last few days we had been eating very little then eating one meal an hour later might leave us feeling very hungry.
- Ease into it.
In the week leading up to the switch, move your bedtime gradually. Go to bed 10-15 minutes earlier each night. And correspondingly set your alarm for 5-10 minutes earlier each day. This gradual transition will be easier to accommodate than an abrupt change.
- Wake up to light.
Chances are, depending on exactly where you live, you will be getting up in the dark after the switch. Put a timer on a lamp in your bedroom and set it to turn on when your alarm goes off, or just before. As mentioned, our hypothalamus in our brain is receiving signals from your body. One of the triggers is the amount of light coming to our eyes. As our eyes detect more light and notifies the hypothalamus, it stimulates the production of serotonin, which is our body’s wake-up hormone. You may choose to purchase full spectrum lights that simulate the sun’s rays and are more effective at helping you to wake up than a regular light.
With these suggestions you can reduce the negative impacts for yourself of switching to daylight savings time and still enjoy the long-term brain benefits of the long summer evenings.
Do you struggle with switching DST? Or do you have a tip on how you prepare for the switch?