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Why Does Setting the Clock Back One Hour Have Such an Impact?

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Daylight savings time is linked to health risks including depression, heart attacks and obesity. 

Most of the country recently “fell back” to daylight savings time and many of us are still trying to adapt to the change. While it’s nice to grab some extra sleep, who knew one hour could have such an impact on how we feel? The reality is that it does! In fact, this one event is linked to health risks including depression, heart attacks and obesity. The reason is our circadian rhythm.

What is Circadian Rhythm?

The body is an amazing thing and our circadian rhythm is one way it helps us maintain health. It is a unique internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. In a nutshell, circadian rhythm guides the physical, mental and behavioral responses that we use to function every day. It is our body’s way of managing our metabolism to help us remain alert throughout the day and stay asleep during the night.

However, we don’t always listen to our bodies. It would be great if everyone could spring awake at the sound of the alarm, put in a productive day with breaks for three healthy meals and a block of time for exercise, then fall asleep at 10 p.m. as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Unfortunately, life rarely works that way. Work, errands and families need our attention and they don’t always fit into convenient, pre-scheduled time slots. Deadlines mean late nights at the office (or on a Zoom call). After-school activities push back dinner and homework so bedtimes are missed. And for many of us, sleep is elusive no matter what time we go to bed or how many meditation apps we listen to!

How Does Circadian Rhythm Affect Me?

On top of all of these challenges there’s daylight savings time! Given how time flies by and we lose track of an hour (or two, or three!) on some days, it seems absurd that a one hour difference — just two times in a year — wreak such havoc. But it absolutely does, and that’s because circadian rhythm doesn’t pay attention to any external clock. Your body works to keep you on a schedule that best benefits your well-being. This is strongly influenced by what you eat and when you sleep.

When your natural circadian rhythm is disrupted for whatever reason, so is your eating cycle. If you skip meals, or rely on snacks or a candy bar to get you through the day, insulin levels rise and not everybody can counter this effect. This can have negative health effects and can contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Tips to Overcome Winter Fatigue

There are ways to help regulate and maintain a circadian rhythm by using light to your advantage. Get as much sun exposure as you can in the morning: open the blinds, eat breakfast near a window, or get outside for a walk if you can. Natural light is best, but if that’s not an option, white light during the day is a good alternative. Try to stay in a well-lit environment until you’re getting ready to wind down your day.

At night, reverse this process. Start dimming lights a couple of hours before you go to bed and create a dark environment where you sleep. This means no electronics or blue light which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Also try to go to bed around the same time every night to create a consistent sleep cycle.

On the bright side, the winter solstice is in just five short weeks and daylight will start increasing! Using the tips presented here, you can help regulate your circadian rhythm to better adapt to seasonal changes. This can minimize the winter doldrums and help improve your mood and overall well-being as we approach a new year.


About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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