On Sunday 25 October we’ll be turning the hands of the clock one hour back, allowing those who regularly wake up to the sound of an alarm clock to sleep an extra hour. But this may be nothing more than a meagre consolation.
Maintaining constant rhythms throughout the year is indeed beneficial to our health: enjoying uniform circadian and physiological rhythms and following a timing that is consistent with nature’s pace – meaning the light-dark cycle – is an ideal condition for our body.
Our organism is designed in such a way to follow such rhythms; any variation, even if just one single hour, can affect the production of hormones and the quality of sleep and of wakefulness. Furthermore, it has noticeable effects on arterial blood pressure and on heart rate. These variations cause a sort of mini jet lag.
Experts claim that switching from daylight saving time to standard time (and vice-versa) has potentially negative effects on the organism. Let’s see a few of them.
Standard time reduces the daily hours of sunlight and this might get us in a bad mood or make us irritable. As a matter of fact, sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin, the so-called feel good hormone. Modifying natural rhythms can cause stress and headaches, owing to excess muscle tension.
A study published in Neuroscience Letter revealed that the transition period disturbs sleep for most people, many claiming they actually get less sleep than usual. Some people need up to three weeks to readjust, while others might need just a day.
Little sleep or poor quality sleep also means being less concentrated and less productive at work. According to a study published on the Journal of Applied Psychology, daylight saving time “dramatically” increases the amount of time people spend “cyberloafing”, namely visiting websites that are by no means related to the job. More specifically, the researchers analysed the data concerning the search for websites falling in the “entertainment” category provided by Google for the Monday following the standard time coming into effect in the United States. Compared with the previous Monday, there was a 3% increase in the Americans’ web searches concerning matters other than work, with users mainly visiting websites such as YouTube or Facebook. Another study, conducted in the state of Indiana, revealed that the students who had put the clock forward by one hour scored 2% lower in their SAT college admission tests.
A number of studies zero in on the nexus existing between the switch from standard time to daylight saving time and heart diseases. In particular, a research of the University of Stockholm shows a 4% increase in heart attacks (mainly among elder people) in the week following the adoption of the standard time.
Not to mention the effects that changes in the chrono-biological rhythm may have on the most vulnerable people: an Australian study has recorded a rise in suicides in the first few weeks following the introduction of the daylight saving time and of the standard time.
The best way to counter the effects of such switch (both to and from standard time) is to try to shift all our activities, going with the new scheme. This allows our organism to readapt quickly, through individual modalities, to the new situation. It is also useful to expose yourself to sunlight as much as possible, especially in the early hours of the day, and follow a diet that is rich in food that stimulates the brain’s production of serotonin (such as chocolate, bananas, pineapples, spinach, green beans, etc.) or have a regular intake of specific supplements. Finally, it is always a good advice to take some time for yourself during the day and to physical exercise, which can stimulate the production of endorphins.