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Change to daylight saving time can affect your health, doctors say

Timothy Liu
During Day Light Saving time, it typically gets dark later in the evening compared to late fall and winter days. But the change can be hard on our bodies, doctors say.

Doctors are urging people to make a plan to get enough sleep after daylight saving time goes into effect at 2 a.m. Sunday. Studies show people experience more health emergencies when their circadian rhythms are interrupted.

The time change throws our wake and sleep cues out of whack, which physically impacts our bodies, said Dr. Alicia Roth, a clinical health psychologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.

“More heart attacks happen, more strokes happen... the Monday after changing and traffic accidents — traffic deaths go up," she said, adding that workplace accidents involving machinery and hospitalizations do too.  

Roth said she's an advocate for year-round Standard Time, which is best suited to how people naturally have evolved to the seasonal patterns of the day.

The change to daylight saving time is a shock to our systems, she said.

"It's also a shock to all of these other circadian rhythms… these daily rhythms of all the operations in our body," Roth said. "That's why this is a bigger... health issue than we ever thought it really was.”

Studies have shown a24% jump in heart attacks during daylight saving time and a 6% jump in fatal car crashes and an 8% increase in the incidents of stroke during the week after we spring forward.

The time change and the resulting disruptions to our circadian rhythms can also cause insomnia, digestive issues and affect one's mental health, according to Roth.

“Your body is... going to be misaligned with the light-dark cycle. And the light-dark cycle is very important to our internal clocks,” she said.

AAA East Central is asking motorists and pedestrians to take extra care Monday because the loss of an hour of sleep overnight combined with darker-than-normal conditions during the morning commute can make for dangerous conditions.

“Many will find on Monday that their normal morning commutes will be darker than they’re used to, which can be especially dangerous for pedestrians and children waiting at bus stops,” said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central. “Moreover, less sleep can lead to an increase in the number of drowsy drivers, so motorists should prepare themselves to adjust to losing an hour of sleep and then driving in darker conditions.”

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.