There is no greater feeling than waking up refreshed on a Sunday morning, arms stretched, in silk pyjamas, like a perfectly poised coffee advert. Sleep does wonders for our health. It helps to form new pathways in the brain so we can retain more information, it’s essential for physical repair and healing, and it makes us feel more productive. It’s no wonder doctors always order a good nights sleep.
And yet, this morning I was jerked out of my blissful sleeping patterns and forced to live life an hour out of kilter. For the past week I’ve navigated the tango that is ‘don’t forget to turn the clocks forward’, ‘I thought they go back’, ‘it’s definitely forward, by an hour.’ Yet I was still confused when I woke up. For the record, they went back an hour.
Coffee clock. Photograph by Nathan Dumlao.
As a nutritional therapist I couldn’t resist the urge to research whether the sudden jolt in time is harmful to our health. As it happens it is (no surprises there then). Although I have to say it’s for a minority of people with underlying health problems. It’s mainly down to the changes in our circadian rhythm wreaking havoc with our hormones. Our natural body clock is effected by light. The more light we’re exposed to the less melatonin (that lovely sleep inducing hormone) we produce. And vice versa. So, with an hour less of light in the evenings, our melatonin levels are likely to be higher, leaving us Brits feeling a little more groggy than usual. Here are three effects associated with winding our clocks back.
1. Road accidents
Back in 1999, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Stanford analysed 21 years of fatal car crash data from the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. They concluded a rise in road deaths from an average of 78.2 on any given Monday to an average of 83.5 the Monday following the clock change. More recently, the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted research into a correlation between Daylight Saving Time and traffic incident-related deaths and discovered that there was a 17 percent increase on the Monday after the Spring change.
I can’t say I’m surprised considering the effects that light change has on our melatonin levels. For most of us our melatonin peaks at 8pm. It stays high right through until about 3 or 4pm. If we’re then putting our clocks back by an hour, we’re inducing more sleepiness earlier on in the evening; increasing our chances of error on the road.
2. Seasonal Affective Disorder
Dark morning. Photograph by Kate Williams.
There’s nothing more grim than waking up and leaving for work in the dark while others are still sound asleep. Winding our clocks back one hour will have most of us up and out the door before daybreak; and for some it can bring our moods down. It’s a type of winter depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Interestingly, a study conducted by The Weather Channel and YouGov back in 2014 said that one in three people in the UK suffer from SAD. Anxiety, teary eyed, low moods, loss of motivation and low sex drive are common symptoms. Apparently us women are 40% more likely to experience SAD than men.
Some people may also be at a greater risk of suffering a stroke. A preliminary study found that stroke rates in Finland are higher in the two days following Daylight Saving Time. The correlation is particularly strong for those of us that are over 65 or suffering from cancer. The reason could be down to cortisol, the notorious stress hormone. The better quality sleep we have, the more likely our cortisol levels are healthy. However, with poor sleep cortisol rises, increasing blood pressure with it. The result is a rise in risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, diabetes and heart attack.
Kay Ali, Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist.
Book a consultation with Kay and transform your health today.
References available upon request.
Header photograph by Loic Dijim.