This Sunday at 2 a.m., daylight saving time will come to an end. We'll be setting our clocks back to standard time and getting an “extra hour” of shuteye that night. If you live in most parts of the U.S. (except the states and cities that opt out of daylight saving, including most of Arizona, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) you’ll be affected. And some of the bodily repercussions are more serious than you may first assume. The changes in your sleep schedule can have real health effects, especially if you’re the parent of a young child.
How does daylight saving time affect your body?
Shanon Makekau, M.D., chief of pulmonology & sleep at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center, explains that it can have an impact on you and your health in a few ways.
“It's believed that daylight saving time affects the body negatively by creating misalignment of the new sleep schedule and the body’s internal sleep clock called the circadian rhythm, which then results in sleep deprivation.”
This can ultimately take a toll on your health. For example, Makekau points to a limited study from the University of Colorado in 2014. Its results showed that the short-term risk of heart attack is increased by 25 percent during the spring daylight saving transition, and by 21 percent in the fall when an hour is gained back.
How does it impact your mind?
Makekau explains that estimates show the average American loses about 40 minutes of sleep during this time, and experiences a reduction in overall sleep quality during the spring transition. Similar things happen in the fall, she says.
“The resultant sleep deprivation that occurs can cause a variety of cognitive effects, including diminished attention and concentration as well as impairments in more complex mental functions such as short-term memory and decision-making,” she explains. “These negative cognitive changes increase the incidence of accidents — in particular, motor vehicle and work-related — poor performance, and reduced productivity across all activities, including at home, school, and work.”
There’s research backing Makekau. In fact, a 2001 National Institutes of Health study found that deadly traffic accidents increase the Monday after the time changes in both spring and fall.
However, there are things you can do to help your body adjust. Cleveland Clinic recommends making gradual shifts, and trying to adjust your sleep schedule by 10 to 15 minutes at a time in the weeks before falling back.
Does the sleep shift impact parents and young children more?
Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, an educational psychologist, parenting expert, and guidance counselor, explains that it can be especially tough on the sleep patterns of young children who don’t quite understand the concept of time yet.
“It’s going to have a big impact on kids who are six months or 18 months or even a couple of years old,” Patel says. “They’re usually on a set schedule and routine, and both the children and parents can find it difficult to adjust.” The kids will have to go to sleep a bit earlier than usual, and wonder and complain about having to go to bed when their body isn’t tired, she says.
You can help these kiddos adjust by weening them into daylight saving 15 minutes at a time. You can start the week before, or slowly change bedtime by 15 minutes each night after daylight saving. Patel says another trick is to cut down their nap time, making it shorter so that they’re more tired by bedtime. Patel also recommends taking away electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime (this screen time hack can help adults, too!), and waking your child up in the morning with a light alarm clock that will train them to wake up to light, rather than at a certain time. One of her favorites is the LittleHippo Mella Ready to Rise Children’s Sleep Trainer. You also might try Dream Lab’s Owlet Baby Care app, which helps you create personalized sleep plans for your baby, with self-adjusting daily schedules.
Makekau adds that, in newborns, sleep schedules are often so chaotic that it’s probably best to allow their internal circadian rhythms to mature naturally, regardless of daylight saving time. As always she adds that moms should "sleep when their babies sleep."