Time Changes

It’s just one hour, but it throws people off of their day when they don’t have it.

Daylight Saving Time begins this month and that means the mornings are getting a little darker and everyone will be losing one hour of sleep. This change has a direct effect on everyone’s internal cycles, causing crankiness, rushing, tardiness — even heart attacks and increased traffic accidents.

“It’s stressful to get up before your brain has decided that it is time to have you alert and awake and functioning,” said Dr. Marlin Hoover, a psychologist at the Family Medicine Center at Memorial Medical Center. “So that increases the stress related to getting up an hour early.”

In a 1996 study, results showed an 8 percent increase in traffic accidents after the time change. In another study, researchers found that there was a 5 percent increase in heart attacks after the time shift, according to My Health News Daily.

These small studies ring true to Hoover, who agreed that losing an hour of rest does affect people, most of whom don’t enough sleep in the first place.

Breaking the cycle

Most people’s energy follows a cycle, and energy levels vary throughout the day in a predictable pattern. Typically, midnight is the time when the energy level is the lowest; by 6 a.m., energy is climbing drastically as the body is waking up and doing things; and it peaks around noon. It’s downhill from there, with a moderate peak around 4 p.m. and then a continuous downward trend back into the lowest energetic point at midnight.

It’s difficult to shift this cycle — which is exactly what Daylight Saving Time does to everyone — if you don’t prepare for it. It takes three to seven days for a person to get back on track.

“And for that reason, people on swing shifts have much higher accident rates,” Hoover said. These people can never change their cycles to where they have the most energy in the middle of the night, while they are working.

“If you get somebody up, then, an hour early, their body is already cranked up. And you’re adding the stress of being up, not feeling good, and having to manage things, which means driving, even, is going to be more stressful,” Hoover said.

About the time a person is dreaming, their heart rate and blood pressure is going up. This time is usually around the time a person wakes up.

When a person has to get up earlier, during this dream state, they add more pressure, which leads to more heart attacks. This time in the morning is also the time more heart attacks happen year-round, Hoover said.

Bright and early

Light also causes people’s energy to swing. Because time is springing forward, that means the mornings will be a little darker than they have been. This leads to slow mornings, when people feel drowsy and unenthusiastic to start their day.

When bright sunlight hits the retinas of the eye, that sends a signal to the reticular activating system, a part of the brain that tells the body to wake up.

“That’s why people tend to feel best in the summer; it’s because there is the most ambient light,” Hoover said.

Emotions are also tied into the amount of light people are exposed to. In a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression, people feel depressed and they have no energy, especially during winter, when less sunlight reaches them — or during Daylight Saving Time, when mornings are darker and evenings are brighter.

Psychologists have a treatment for this: light therapy, which exposes patients to bright light that resembles that of the sun.

“Exposing the eyes to light will give a little bump to the energy and move the curve to a little bit earlier,” Hoover said about the energy cycle.

There is a cure for the time change blues, too. In the weeks before Daylight Saving Time begins, you can adjust your alarm clock to ring 15 minutes before it’s usually set to go off. Increase 15 more minutes every week. By the time March 11 comes around, your body should already be used to getting up an hour early.