Nina Radcliff

Dr. Nina Radcliff


Losing just one hour of sleep affects your mental and physical health. And as our nation works to improve health, we all need to take action every day to ensure we get the quality sleep needed every night.

But now it’s here — what some call our nationally scheduled “sleep disruption” or, as most know it, daylight saving time. Its perceived benefits and joys aside, generally it is that time when each of us is essentially pulled from sleep an hour earlier because clocks “spring forward.”

Interestingly, as we change our sleep-wake schedules by even one hour, many people are under the mistaken notion they can fool these rhythms into thinking the day has already started. In fact, the body is going to feel that loss as a temporary period of sleep deprivation.

Overall, the shift to DST is raising more eyebrows as health concerns mount. More health professionals, along with related associations, are speaking out about the impact. In fact, compelling debates about the pros and cons of DST are taking place throughout our nation, with considerations of doing away with it. Or, changing it so it stays all year round. In other words, stopping with the back-and-forth.

These discussions are driving more people to wonder, “It’s only an hour, what’s the big deal?” But the health issues extend further than that unsettling feeling of grogginess many experience from the DST shift. There are real health consequences: increased motor vehicle and job accidents, heart attacks and strokes.

And while doing away with DST may never happen (most people recently surveyed think DST is worth all the hassle), there are measures you can take to ensure the shift is a healthy one for you and your loved ones.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Daylight Saving Time and Your Health

With Sunday morning’s “spring forward,” we moved an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, and sunrise and sunset occur one hour later.

The science of what’s happening in your body

Your body has an internal clock that dictates your sleep/wake cycles and is controlled by melatonin, a sleep hormone.

Melatonin production occurs in the pineal gland, a 1 centimeter structure in our brain, and it is based on whether it is light or dark outside.

During the darkness of the night, we want to be asleep, and that is when melatonin levels are at their highest. On the other hand, during the day when there is sunlight, we want to be awake, and that is when levels are at their lowest. So, when the retinas in our eyes sense light, either sunlight or artificial lights, they send signals to the pineal gland to stop the production of melatonin.

How does daylight saving time coincide with our body’s circadian rhythm?

It doesn’t — the time change is man-made. Our internal clocks need time to recalibrate to the one-hour shift in the sleep cycle. And, consequently, millions of American adults and children can struggle to adjust for several days after or even a couple of weeks.

Some signs you may see of the sleep disturbances caused by the time change are:

• An inability to concentrate, poor classroom or workplace performance, and mistakes

• Grouchiness and irritability

• Headaches

• Increased appetite and poor decision-making about what we put in our mouths. Sleep deprivation causes the hunger hormone ghrelin to surge and makes us ravenous. As a result, we may consume several hundred additional calories.

• Decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to germs. Our immune system recharges, rejuvenates and reboots while we are asleep. And if we do not get enough sleep, it cannot fortify and build up its defenses to fight off germs.

Research has shown that as we spring forward:

• There is a marked increase in motor vehicle collisions and an overall increase in motor vehicle deaths in the days following.

• The overall rate of ischemic stroke is higher than usual, with the risk being highest in the morning hours. In those over the age of 65, the risk is even greater and patients battling cancer are more likely to have a stroke.

• Interestingly, there is almost a 25 percent leap in the number of heart attacks compared to other Mondays throughout the year


Your sleep is vital

It’s a big deal, so make plans to ease the transition to ensure you are getting enough sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults routinely get seven or more hours per night to promote optimal health. However, sleeping for more than nine hours per night on a regular basis is associated with health risks. Children require more sleep: 3-5-year-olds need 10-13 hours; 6-12-year-olds need 9-12 hours; and teens 8-10 hours.

When sleep deprived, it creates a “sleep debt.” Good news: Like all debt, with some work, it can be repaid. But it won’t happen in one extended snooze binge. Tacking on an extra hour or two of sleep a night is the way to catch up.

• Tips to improve your sleep quantity and quality: (It bears repeating!) Sleep hygiene describes the routines and rituals that you undergo before bedtime. Maintaining good hygiene works to help calm and get you in the mood to fall asleep and stay asleep.

• Make sleep a priority. You need quality, restful sleep — plan on it, every day

• Decompress and power down. Engaging in relaxing activities in the hour before it’s time to hit the sack can help us doze off. Think of falling asleep as a continuum, not an abrupt transition. Before bedtime, quiet things down; play relaxing music, read, meditate, or take a warm bath. Dim the lights at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and longer if needed.

• Avoid stressful psychological and physical activities — steer away from work, heavy exercise, rehashing things from your day, or arguing — a few hours before your desired sleep time. Stress causes your body to produce hormones that send you into a “fight or flight” mode — the opposite direction of sleep and slumber.

• Avoid stimulants. Coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate contain caffeine that stimulates our brain and can increase our heart rate. It takes our body about 5 to 7 hours to clear half of the caffeine that is consumed, and 8 to 10 hours to clear seventy-five percent. If you are struggling with your sleep, consider discontinuing these items in the early afternoon, depending on your target bedtime. Nicotine — contained in cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, is also a stimulant.

• Think comfort for sleeping. The comfort of your bedroom (and you at bedtime) is not just a luxury, it is critically important to the quality of your sleep. Research shows that the conditions of your bedroom — sights, sounds, feelings, textures, temperature and even smells — as well as your comfort, all can have a direct impact on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested, fresh and energized.

• And yes, make plans to stay on schedule or adjust to change. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day — even on weekends — is crucial for setting your body’s internal clock (your circadian rhythm).

Fortunately, most of us will adjust to our DST change within a few days. However, it is estimated that one in three American adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. And, there can be significant consequences of chronic insomnia on our physical and mental health including an increase in Alzheimer’s dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes, lack of productivity, obesity and obesity related illnesses.

Sleep is an essential component to your overall well-being and you must have adequate sleep to gain all the health benefits, it offers. If you have challenges with the time change and sleeping — talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

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