Today@Sam Article

COM Sleep Expert Discusses Daylight Saving Time

Oct. 27, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney


Autumn has officially arrived, but many traditions like back-to-school shopping and fall sports have been altered by COVID-19. One reoccurring seasonal ritual that hasn’t been impacted though, is Daylight Saving Time (DST).

James-BarkerOn Nov. 1, all of Texas and most of the U.S., will move their clocks back one hour to reflect standard time, despite claims that the clock is ticking on the decades-old tradition.

This extra hour of sleep is welcomed by many each fall, but this also means that it will be brighter for one hour in the morning and sunset will come one hour earlier in the evening, resulting in painfully short days. Nothing signals that “winter is coming” quite like an abrupt disruption to our sleep schedules amidst a global pandemic.

To understand why our sleep still suffers even after gaining an hour in the fall, Today@Sam spoke with Dr. James Barker, a professor of Clinical Medicine and director of Clinical Skills Training at Sam Houston State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Barker is board certified in Internal Medicine as well as the subspecialties of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Disorders.

In the Q&A below, Dr. Barker explains why getting adequate sleep is essential to achieving full-body wellness and offers a few tips for coping with the initial impact.

T@S: How much sleep does the average person need each night?

Dr. Barker: The average adult in the U.S. needs 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep nightly. Interestingly enough, at the turn of the century (1900) most Americans were sleeping at least 10 hours nightly. We did not have electricity to give us artificial light to read by or watch television or certainly not to be on the computer playing video games! Some say that Benjamin Franklin first widely advocated for DST. However, his other idea (electricity) had not yet come to fruition.

T@S: What are the negative consequences of not getting enough sleep?

Dr. Barker: Some would say we are in a national epidemic of too little sleep—what scientists and sleep specialist physicians call “insufficient sleep.” Laboratory animals become grumpy, lose their hair, and eventually die if continuously sleep deprived. Insufficient sleep has been linked to weight gain, worsening of diabetic control, drop in work productivity, and car crashes. How to tell if you are affected by chronically short sleep nights? Do you take catch up naps on weekends or after the conclusion of big projects? If yes, you are likely sleep deprived—and it is not a good thing.

T@S: Does losing or gaining an hour during Daylight Saving Time majorly disrupt our ability to get a good night’s sleep?

Dr. Barker: Probably so. Abrupt changes in sleep routine can often take several days or weeks to adjust. Particularly problematic about DST is the spring forward. Circadian rhythm researchers have clearly identified that awakening more than 10 minutes earlier than the norm is very difficult. When we move our clocks from 7-8 a.m. each spring, we are effectively forcing ourselves to get up at least an hour earlier. This is counter to how our body clock works. For example, in companies which require shift work, the worker changes shifts infrequently (say every two weeks) and also moves clockwise—never counter clockwise. So, if I am working in the boot factory, I would work the day shift 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for two weeks; then work two weeks of evening shifts 3-11 p.m.; and then finally move to night shift, working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. But I would never go from days to midnights (counterclockwise). Similarly, jet lag is much worse going later to earlier (west to east) than the opposite.

T@S: Why are we still tired even though we gain an hour in the fall?

Dr. Barker: Our chronobiology takes several days to adjust. We are attuned to daylight. Our bodies have a complex cycle of temperature and hormonal changes which follow the cues from the body clock as well as daylight.

T@S: Can you offer suggestions on how to make adjusting to this change as smooth as possible?

Dr. Barker:

  • Try for eight or more hours sleep the week prior to the change and the two weeks after the change.
  • Focus on “sleep hygiene” or healthy sleep habits. Take a warm shower or bath before bedtime, turn off the TV and computer, relax and read. Enjoy sleep.
  • Consider exercising or walking in the morning after the time change. The light exposure and the energizing hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) will help shift the body response to the time change.
  • Be careful with melatonin if you take it as a sleep aid. Try to take it no later than 9:30 p.m. of the current time, if you take it.

T@S: More and more, states are considering changing the laws and eliminating the time changes. Would this be a good, bad, or indifferent change, from your perspective?

Dr. Barker: Some interventions affecting sleep can be incredibly positive. For example, delaying school onset to later than 8:30 a.m. has had markedly positive results with fewer car crashes, improved student performance, and improved standardized test results. DST has not produced any significantly positive results. It was hoped to increase sunlight exposure and decrease energy (electricity) usage, but it really does not seem to have done that. On the other hand, it probably worsens the problem of insufficient or inadequate sleep. In the Spring forward time, it likely gives all of us the equivalent of severe jet lag! I would love to see Texas pull out of DST.

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