I imagine there are a few souls dragging out there today. For some people, sleep is already the hardest area to change because of shift work, young children, etc. Add to this scenario the lost hour that disappears into the ether every March, and the effects can be miserable. Even for the “best” situations, switching the clock (in either direction) leaves a person feeling oddly displaced, like you’re never where you’re supposed to be at any given time. The world is going about its business in the usual routine, but something feels off—and it takes at least a few days to finally settle back into a circadian congruence.
Switching the clocks is just one of those things that underscore how our modern life inevitably strays from natural rhythms. For all but a small fraction of our evolutionary history, humans have equated natural light with awake and dark with sleep. We are still products of that environment, no matter how many bulbs are burning in our houses at 11:00 at night.
In terms of physiology, there’s a legitimate toll to the whole time change project. The circadian rhythm is a powerful physical phenomenon – right down to the molecular level. Hormonal levels, blood pressure, body temperature, even gene activity are directed by it. Although circadian rhythm is ordered and maintained internally, it’s obviously influenced by the external, namely light and dark cycles.
Particularly with the “spring ahead,” more of us find ourselves genuinely struggling. Companies see a rise in workplace injuries because people are tired. For their part, researchers who have analyzed large surveys have even found evidence that suggests we’re wired to stay on standard time. During non-working days, scientists found, “the timing of sleep…follows the seasonal progression of dawn under standard time, but not under DST.” In fact, their study (which also included observation of 50 individuals) concluded that, overall, humans’ circadian rhythm doesn’t truly adjust to daylight savings time period. (The people most negatively impacted, not surprisingly, were the night owls among the group.)
Messing with our bodies’ natural physiological patterns has, as you might expect, real consequences. A study presented to the Society for Neuroscience showed that mice whose day/night cycles were thrown off exhibited “weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioral changes.” (Those of us who have ever been sleep deprived can probably identify with these creatures.) Incidentally, metabolic hormones— including insulin—were affected by the day/night cycle changes.
More than ever this week, work with your entrainment options. Get some early sun, and exercise earlier. Dim lights and forgo electronics three hours before bed or even sooner if you can. Shift your meal schedule or consider fasting, a little recognized tool for jet lag, which is essentially what we’re all dealing with today. And good luck dealing with the kids….