- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH
For most of the United States, next weekend marks the transition to Daylight Savings Time (DST), when we’ll “spring forward” an hour over the night of March 10 to allow for our dawns to start later and our daylight to last longer into the evening. While the pros and cons of DST continue to be debated, the health risks from disrupted sleep schedules certainly fall into the cons. Preparing in advance may help mitigate these negative effects.
Moving our clocks forward one hour may not seem like a big transition, but disrupted sleep schedules and sleep latency may last for at least a week afterward. An increased prevalence of heart attacks is noted in the United States the Monday after DST begins, as are an increased number of work-related injuries. A review of Australian suicide rates found an increase after DST arrives in the spring. Parents of young children, along with caregivers for developmentally disabled and cognitively impaired individuals, can struggle to transition their loved ones to a new time schedule.
Sleep experts recommend beginning the transition at least a week prior to the official start of DST, gradually shifting bedtimes and wake-up times by 10-15 minutes every couple of days. Catching up any pre-existing sleep deficit before the DST transition can help, as can getting plenty of sunlight in the morning and dimming lights in the evening.
Emphasizing good sleep hygiene is also important, as reviewed in this AFP article on the “Management of Common Sleep Disorders.” Minimizing late day caffeine and alcohol use, along with evening screen time, can help improve sleep quality year-round. For children struggling with sleep issues, this AFP article on “Common Sleep Disorders in Children” provides guidance regarding age-appropriate norms and strategies. Both of these articles are in the AFP By Topic on Sleep Disorders in Adults and the AFP By Topic on Sleep Disorders in Children, respectively, each of which also include useful patient education materials.