With the change to Daylight Savings Time comes the expected adjustments our minds and bodies must make every time our clocks “Spring Forward” or “Fall Back.” Sleep schedules are thrown off and routines disrupted. And for commuters and school-age children, especially, many of us end up having to arise before dawn or turn in before dusk at some point.
While lawmakers in Washington consider a bill to make Daylight Savings Time permanent – meaning we wouldn’t have to reset our clocks twice each year – doctors are learning more about the essential role sleep plays in our overall health.
Timothy Grant, M.D. , a board certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist who serves as director of Baptist Health Sleep Center , says it’s not just the quantity and quality of our sleep that matters, it’s also the timing – when we go to sleep. “We now know that the timing of the nighttime sleep schedule can significantly impact both physical and mental well being,” Dr. Grant says.
There is a condition – Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome – which Dr. Grant says is a circadian rhythm irregularity manifested by a preference to go to sleep late and awaken late. “Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is commonly seen in adolescents and young adults but can persist in a small percentage of the adult population,” he notes. “We now think there may be a genetic predisposition. It has also been associated with an increased incidence of depression.”
Studies have shown that people with what is known as an evening chronotype — or a pattern of staying up and waking later in the day — have more than four times the risk of cardiovascular disease and six times the risk of type 2 diabetes than so-called morning chronotypes who greet the dawn with energy and enthusiasm. In fact, even intermediate chronotypes, or people who start their day a little later, are far healthier that those who burn the midnight oil and sleep in late, the study found.
Another study, this one on sudden cardiac death, revealed that shifting to and from daylight savings time had a profound effect on people with existing cardiac conditions. “Having to ‘spring forward’ with the resulting loss of an hour’s sleep was associated with an increase in heart attacks for several days following,” Dr. Grant says. “On the other hand, having to ‘fall back’ with the resulting gain of an hour’s sleep was associated with a decrease in heart attacks for several days after.”
Dr. Grant says that people who work shifts – particularly a nighttime schedule or a constantly shifting schedule – are at increased risk for a variety of medical disorders, ranging from cardiovascular disease and cancer to mental illness and other conditions.
“Even just shifting your sleep schedule significantly from weekdays to weekends can have deleterious effects,” Dr. Grant says, referring to what some people call “social jet lag.” “We’ve all fallen victim to this pattern at times. We see it in teenagers who stay up late on Friday and Saturday and then try to make up for their sleep deficit by sleeping late the next day.”
Dr. Grant tells his patients that adding just one hour to nighttime sleep by getting into bed earlier can dramatically favorably impact their general health. “Try to get to sleep a little bit earlier, as it can most definitely have a beneficial effect on your overall health,” he advises.