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For those of us that live in areas that follow DST, springtime brings a significant change in our internal circadian clocks: millions of individuals are exposed to an abrupt change in time that seems minimal yet, it is not necessarily harmless. The sudden adjustment in our clocks leads to mild circadian misalignment that can be associated with severe health consequences.
The most noticeable effect of the transition to DST is a reduction in total sleep time for many individuals. When we first wake up that Sunday, out internal clocks may think that we are waking up around 8 or 9 AM but we always end up surprised to learn that it is 1-hour later. A significant percentage of the population work 24/7 jobs that require working on a Sunday and they many notice the impact of DST right away. For the majority of individuals, the first noticeable impact will come a day later on Monday morning.
This minor change in total sleep time may seem harmless since it would be the equivalent of travelling by plane to a place with a one-hour time difference from our usual zone but it is a change that affect millions at once.
A recent Study by Fritz and colleagues found a 6% increase in traffic fatalities associated with DST. If we take into consideration that traffic fatalities represent one of the leading causes of mortality in the US and across the globe, it is easy to realize that a 6% increase is a very high number. The abrupt change to DST is also associated with an increased risk of strokes, elevated blood pressure and heart attacks.
Ideally, it would be better to follow solar time and just delay our sleep time and our wake-up times by one hour rather than trying to adjust to the time change. Those with flexible work schedules or retirees could simply change their alarm time and continue functioning by the old schedule. At the end, it is well known that trying to adapt to the new DST will lead to mild sleep deprivation that will have serious health consequences to a small but significant number of people.
If going to bed at 11 PM rather than 10 PM is not an option, there are ways to help our circadian system during this abrupt transition. While we may be eager to enjoy more activities in the evening, we could try to limit exposure to TVs and dim our lights after 7-8PM in order to protect the natural production of melatonin. Another alternative could be the use of blue-light blocking glasses but as you can guess: we are biased here since our company sells them.
It is well known that melatonin can be used to adjust our sleep times. In order to change the time of our sleep we must first understand the natural secretion pattern of this supplement. In general, we recommend using a melatonin preparation with less than 1 mg ( we think 0.8 mg is best) and taking the supplement 4 to 5 hours prior to desired bedtime.