Sleep Health and Daylight Savings Time – What You Should Be Aware Of
Starting in November, the end of this year’s annual Daylight Savings Time (DST) will require Americans to set their clocks back one hour. While the extra hour of sleep may sound appealing to many of us, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s (AASM) Sleep Prioritization Survey, taken in July of this year, found that 63 percent of Americans support the elimination of DST in favor of a “national, fixed, year-round time.” According to the survey’s results page, this includes 38 percent that “strongly support” and 26 percent that “somewhat support” the idea of eliminating DST, and sleep specialists like the AASM itself agree, explaining in a position statement that a fixed standard time more closely aligns with our circadian rhythms, the natural sleep cycles our bodies require for optimal health. The disruption of these rhythms, according to the AASM, can have consequences ranging from increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular problems to sleep loss and higher stress levels. In addition, studies have shown increases in traffic fatalities, injuries, and doctor visits in the days following DST’s inception in the spring. While this tradition has lasted several decades now in the U.S., it was repealed shortly after its inception following the First World War, then reintroduced in the 1960s, Last year, the European Union voted to end the DST requirement by 2021, and even countries leaving the Union, such as England, are doing the same, favoring a standard model of fixed time cycles. In other areas of the world, such as Asia and Africa, seasonal time changes have not been observed at all. This leaves the rest of us to decide if the perceived benefits, such as a longer day in the hotter months, is worth the many consequences now being recognized.
Seasonal Disruptions 101
According to the vice chair of the AASM Public Safety Committee, Dr. M. Adeel Rishi, “permanent, year-round standard time is the best choice to most closely match our circadian sleep-wake cycle.” and thus far, at least 20 prominent sleep health organizations have publicly agreed with the AASM’s position, including the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and the World Sleep Society, among others. And the reasons for this movement’s popularity are not simply a reaction to the loss of sleep time in the spring. The “fallback” shift in autumn can be equally as damaging, causing the same level of disruption to our biological systems, our moods, and our sense of balance during times already changing due to seasonal shifts.
Sleep specialists have known for years that circadian rhythms and personal chronobiology play significant roles in our overall health and metabolism. While chronic misalignments, known as Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders, represent the more extreme results of living out of sync with one’s biological clock, most disruptions are more subtle, often going unnoticed as the sufferer attributes the symptoms to stress or other factors. The truth is, the vast majority of human beings have rather standard circadian rhythms matching the 24-day, and genetic markers known as clock genes extend this relationship to numerous physiological patterns of the body, making almost every aspect of health connected to sleep and sleep processes. This means our bodies and our minds are constantly synchronizing with the cycle of the sun, from dawn to dusk. And this often occurs independently of other environmental factors, such as work or personal habits. Circadian rhythms are part of a larger system of homeostasis, a tendency for biological processes to create a natural sense of balance that supports the health and wellbeing of an organism. We can fight against these natural rhythms, and many do so for years of their lives, but the consequences are likely inevitable, either causing sleep disorders and other health problems to develop, or exacerbating existing conditions.
DST and CPAP – What You Should Know
Anything that disrupts sleep is bad for sleep apnea, and this can include daylight savings time, public health emergencies like COVID-19, or any other life changes that may affect your nightly schedule. A study published in the journal Sleep back in 2008 found that regular bedtimes lead to higher rates of treatment compliance, as long-term use of CPAP requires consistent routines in support of optimal sleep health. Since then, researchers have looked more closely at the relationship between circadian rhythm problems and sleep apnea, and especially at the comorbid conditions that often develop with prolonged sleep apnea syndromes. One study, titled “Circadian Dysregulation: The Next Frontier in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Research,” observed the role of sleep routine changes in the progression of cardiopulmonary disease in patients with sleep apnea. While the researchers did conclude that further studies were needed to understand these complex relationships in the body, connections between sleep regularity and disease were clearly made. This type of research is important because it highlights the seriousness of seemingly minor changes in daily life. People diagnosed with sleep disorders do not always recognize the seriousness of their disease, but the research findings are consistent: sleep routine changes can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. The best defense against these potential consequences is to follow the recommendations of medical professionals and develop an adjustment plan to avoid any sudden or drastic shifts in the balance.
Recommendations from sleep specialists such as the AASM, ResMed, and Sleepeducation.org are more or less in agreement. The best thing you can do is make your schedule adjustments early and gradual, rather than waiting to respond on the day of the change. Paying attention to lighting in the home is also a good idea. This is an area that is easily missed, but lighting can have an effect on the production of melatonin, one of the primary sleep-wake regulators in the brain. Other routines such as meals, exercise, or working at home should follow the sleep schedule as well, giving you plenty of time to prepare. In addition to scheduling concerns, other healthy choices such as proper diet, drinking plenty of liquids, and effective medication times should be taken into account as well. The AASM recommends seven-to-eight hours of sleep per night for most adults, but many of the factors mentioned above can influence the quality of those sleep hours as well as the quality. Make sure that each change in your routine is balanced with the others, keeping your schedule matched to the rise and fall of daylight as closely as you can. And most importantly, any sleep problems should be discussed with your primary health provider, especially if they are new developments that you haven’t yet mentioned. The earlier you address a potential problem, the better off your chances will be for a successful treatment outcome. During these times of change and public health concerns, seemingly simple life decisions can have lasting consequences.
AASM DST Advice – https://aasm.org/daylight-saving-time-advice/
AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey 2020 – https://aasm.org/about/newsroom/
Blood Pressure Monitoring – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26683380/
European Respiratory Journal – https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/32/1/1
Internal and Emergency Medicine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6469828/
Internal Review of Psychiatry – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4677771/
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine – https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.8780
Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30200807/
Sleep – https://academic.oup.com/sleep