While changing the clocks back in the fall as Daylight Saving Time ends means an extra hour of sleep for some, it can have an impact on the body and pose health risks, according to sleep doctors who say changing the clocks back and forth twice a year can have serious health implications.
There is legislation in Congress to make Daylight Saving Time permanent, meaning the clocks would remain on spring and summer time and not fall back for the fall and winter. While it may seem desirable to have more daylight hours while most Americans are awake, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advocates we permanently stay on standard time because it is more in line with a person’s natural bio-rhymes and produces less negative health outcomes.
“Our circadian rhythm is designed to be exposed to bright light when we get up in the morning, and it’s supposed to start getting darker in the evening, causing dim light melatonin onset, which for most people starts around 7 pm,” says Adrian Pristas, MD, Hackensack Meridian director of sleep medicine, in a release. “If we have too much bright light in the evening, our body won’t produce the melatonin it needs to fall asleep in a timely manner.”
Daylight saving time typically causes a spike in cardiac incidents, atrial fibrillation, car accidents in adults as our bodies have a hard time adjusting to the change of the clocks, even by the one hour. But the switch to standard time can have an impact on shift workers who end up working a longer day when the clock turns back.
Another group that has a hard time with the time change in both directions is young children. Parents of small children often dread these shifts, which upend nap and bedtime routines. With an understanding of how the time change affects sleep and a bit of planning, parents can help ease the transition for their family.
For young children, the fall time change can cause young children to crash before bedtime and then wake up earlier than usual in the morning. “Falling back” is typically easier on teenagers. As puberty kicks in, they tend to start falling asleep later as hormones shift a child’s “circadian rhythm” or internal clock by an hour or two.
While time changes can cause some drowsy days, kids usually adjust within about a week. If your child continues to have problems sleeping, talk with your pediatrician.
Experts say parents should help their children prepare for the time change gradually:
- For younger children, start nudging naps and bedtime in the direction the clocks will be changing a few minutes each day. Ideally, start this process about a week before the time change.
- Encourage older kids to start winding down a bit earlier each night, too, especially for the spring time change. Try to plan on dinner earlier, since eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and make it hard to sleep.
Parents should encourage healthy sleep habits year-round including:
- Limiting screen time before bed. Blue light from phones, computers, tablets, TV, and even nightlights can trick the brain into thinking that it’s daytime. Have your child put all screens away at least an hour before bedtime and charge them outside their bedroom. This way, they won’t be tempted to check text messages or social media posts.
- Having set nighttime routines. This lets your child’s body know that it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. For younger kids, having a brush, book bed routine, cuddling, or listening to quiet music.
- Getting enough exercise during the day can help kids sleep better, too. Just avoid too much physical activity close to bedtime, which can make it hard to unwind. Choose quiet activities like stretching or yoga later in the day.
- Spending some time outside and being exposed to natural light during the day can help reset your child’s internal clock after a time change. Sunlight has a strong effect on the body’s circadian rhythm.
- Relaxing activities in the evenings help support a healthy sleep cycle. Examples include a warm bath with Epsom salts, reading a book that’s not on a screen, meditation, soft music, or writing in a journal.
- Using soothing scents like lavender is also shown to help people fall asleep faster. Some parents also find that melatonin supplements help reset their child’s circadian rhythm, so they can fall asleep at a normal time. Melatonin should be given in very small doses of 0.3 to 0.5 mg about three hours before bedtime and used only for a short amount of time. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician before giving your child melatonin.