Playing With Time

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Do you enjoy the game of turning the clocks back before bedtime and getting an “extra hour” of sleep as Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends? According to my Fitbit, I actually got less sleep last night than usual.

There is not much more to say about Daylight Savings Time that I haven’t already said, so read up if you missed those earlier posts. But this month, I have heard more squawking about DST than in past years. I saw that there are actually items on ballots for this week’s elections about getting rid of DST in some states. Congress would need to act to allow states to change since federal law doesn’t permit it. Only two states don’t observe DST – Hawaii and Arizona (though the Navajo Nation, which cuts through part of Arizona, does).

Moving ahead with clocks in spring is the game that seems to cause more problems psychologically and physiologically with people and their internal clocks. Honestly, I’ve never really felt any effect with the spring or fall changes. Maybe my internal clock is already screwed up.

What would it be like if we didn’t change our clocks twice a year?

If we were on Standard Time all year – which is what is most often proposed – we would probably notice it most during the summer. Without summertime DST, on the longest day of the year (June 21), the sun would rise at 4:11 a.m. and would set at 8:10 p.m. That’s early sunlight through your bedroom window. You might get nostalgic with those old DST later sunsets during summer.

What if we were on Daylight Saving Time year-round? You would notice it more during the winter months. On the shortest day of the year (December 21), the sun wouldn’t rise until 8:54 a.m. and would set at 5:20 p.m.

DST No More?

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

I wrote about Daylight Saving Time earlier this month when we did our semiannual switching of clocks. I’ve written about it in years past and there is a limit to what I can say about it that is new or original. Well, the U.S. government might give me a reprieve.

As we were pushing our clocks ahead an hour, the Senate was readying to pass (unanimously, a rare thing) to pass the Sunshine Protection Act. That’s an interesting name for this bill which would permanently extend daylight saving time (DST) from eight months of the year to the full 12 months.

This bill be was first introduced in January 2021 but Senator Marco Rubio reintroduced the bill just as people were complaining – again – about the time change.

The bill would make DST permanent across the U.S. in 2023. It seems that it might be a popular change, though polls show support for permanent DST and also support for year-round Standard Time (the way it is for most of November into March).

Note: Arizona does not recognize DST (except for Navajo reservations) and there is no time change observed in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas.

Saving Some Extra Daylight

from pillow studies by Albrecht Dürer

Last night I set some clocks forward by two hours. I know you are supposed to spring forward one hour for spring but that way when I woke up today I was able to turn the clock back one hour. It is just a psychological effect but then again the whole daylight savings thing is psychological in many ways.

I see articles twice a year about “Reasons Why Daylight Saving Time Is Bad for You.” (That particular one actually says five deadly reasons, but I think that’s going a bit sensationalist.) You know that other things, like “jet lag,” can mess with your natural circadian rhythm. “Circadian” is from the Latin circa dies, meaning “approximately one day” because our natural rest–wake period rhythm is 25.5 hours. Exposure to sunlight resets the brain’s circadian clock every day.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) throws that off while Standard time is close to the sun’s natural time. When we switch into or out of DST the effects on sleep, wakefulness, mood, and general health last about 5 to 7 days. If you were not getting optimal sleep in the days before the switch, the effect are greater. One thing you can do help is get outside this morning and for the next few days and get some sunlight to help your internal clock. It will eventually reset itself, but not as quickly or easily as your smartphone.

Back in 1895, New Zealand entomologist and astronomer George Hudson proposed the idea of changing clocks by two hours every spring so that he would have more daylight hours to devote to collecting and examining insects. In 1907, British resident William Willett presented the idea as a way to save energy. But neither proposal was implemented.

setting the clock ahead 1918
Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time on March 31, 1918 by the Senate sergeant at arms Charles Higgins. via Wikimedia

Germany was the first to adopt daylight saving time on May 1, 1916, during World War I as a way to conserve fuel. The rest of Europe followed soon after. The United States didn’t adopt daylight saving time until March 19, 1918. Though we have a Uniform Time Act, there are different local DST policies across the country. For example, Hawaii has never observed daylight saving time under the Uniform Time Act, having opted out of the act’s provisions in 1967

Start Saving Some Daylight

Tomorrow, March 8 at 2 a.m, will be the official start of Daylight Saving Time (DST) which is also known as “summer time” in Britain. By the way, the official name is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time, as you often see it written and hear it said. But at this point, you’ll hear daylight savings time or daylight time used in the United States and Canada.

Though it starts tomorrow many people put their clock ahead tonight. The phrase “spring ahead” has been associated with the March switch and “fall back” for the autumnal turning back of clocks.

I have been writing about DST for a few years explain the how and why there is even controversy about this practice of advancing clocks so that afternoons have more daylight but mornings have less light.

I recently saw that it was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand entomologist. I read that and thought “How odd that an entomologist would propose it.” Hudson is credited with proposing it because his shift-work job gave him leisure time to collect insects, and led him to value after-hours daylight. He presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift. Eventually, a one-hour shift got wider attention and adoption.

Though many countries use DST, the details vary by location and change occasionally.

There are arguments pro and con for using this system. Probably all of us have had some problems when DST forces us to shift clocks and our sense of time. This might be exacerbated in a country as large as the United States where several time zones exist.

Adding daylight has benefits for extending retail business days, sports, and other activities that benefit from longer daylight. extending the business day. Some studies show that traffic fatalities seem to be reduced when there is extra afternoon daylight. DST may have some positive effect on health and may reduce crime in some areas. One of the original appeals of DST was to reduce the use of electric lighting.

I also see claims that the extra daylight causes some problems for farming, evening activities (like entertainment) and activities that are connected to the sun and daylight.

Tick Tock Your Internal Clock

Phones and computers are good about adjusting to turning back the clocks. People don’t adjust as easily. Our internal clocks have no settings that can be reprogrammed.

Hey, it’s only an hour difference. “But it turns out that the master clock in our brain is pretty hard-wired, ” says Fred Turek, director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology at Northwestern University.

Our internal clock is synchronized to the 24 hour light/dark cycle and daylight is a primary cue to reset the body’s clock each day.

It should only take a few days for your body and brain to catch up, but that the shift to daylight saving time in the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and traffic accidents according to a new study which found an increase in the number of patients admitted to the hospital for a atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) in the days following the spring time change.

One of the newer findings has been that the internal clock in our brains that we often refer to is supplemented by a time-keeping mechanism in every cell. Our bodies seem to like routine and when we disrupt those with clock changes or changes to our sleep or eating routines, it can increase the risk of metabolic disease.

Add to this the decrease in daylight also throws off routines, socialization and our emotional rhythm.

Okay, enough bad news. What can we do to compensate?

  • Go to bed an hour or so earlier.
  • Maximize your exposure to daylight in the morning hours.
  • Use foods that nourish – add protein sources like fish, nuts and other plant-based proteins such as tofu are good if you’re trying to cut back on meat.
  • Salmon and tuna are good for getting omega-3 fatty acids which regulate mood by quieting down the body’s response to inflammation.
  • Eat dinner early and keep it light or even make midday your main meal.

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Illustration Credit: “Tic Toc” by Katherine Streeter for npr.org

 

Dealing With Less Daylight

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You remembered to turn back your clock last night to end Daylight Saving Time. Are you feeling any effects this morning?

People sometimes say that they got “an extra hour” of sleep, but really what you did is mess up your circadian rhythm. Much research has shown that this can disrupt our biological clocks and impact our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and more.

That biological clock of circadian rhythm regulates many important biological processes, such as hormone production and sleep patterns, and we know that it is very much controlled by external cues in the environment. The big influence is light.

You have probably seen articles in recent years about shutting down lights and screens that emit light (TV, computer, phone, tablet) in order to let our brain know it is night and time to go to sleep. The fact that many of us do not do this leads to the popularity of sleep medications from melatonin and the many pain relievers plus “PM” (antihistamines to make you drowsy) to prescription sleep aids.

Changing sleep-wake cycles by an hour has an effect on that internal clock in our brain and it can change the chemicals (like melatonin) that affect sleep, metabolism, mood, bodily functions and productivity.

This morning, do you feel sleepy, listless, a bit stressed? Do you feel an hour’s worth of better rested? It may take a few days for any negative effects to show up.

Daylight saving time-changes have been found to result in higher rates of automobile and workplace accidents, more roadkill accidents (the deer don’t change their clocks) and even a slight increase in heart attacks and stroke amongst those already at a higher risk.

Suggestions to deal with the end of DST include NOT using caffeine and other stimulants to adjust. To avoid the Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD) that comes on with shorter days get outside in the sunlight as much as possible. Maybe an extra lunchtime walk. Alternatively, there is light therapy to compensate, but getting outside is easier and cheaper.