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It’s that time of year again: The air is crisp, and the warmth of cinnamon and crackling fires permeate the breeze. We look ahead to the Holiday Season as we turn the corner of November, but keep your shoe buckles on, pilgrim: The tyrannical clock once again demanded the end of Daylight Savings Time as of Sunday, November 5th. 

Once again, we all turned our clocks back one hour and will have to endure the vampire life for four solid months (just when I thought Halloween was over). We must adjust to a new schedule and less sunlight, wreaking havoc on our bodies right before the chaos of the holiday season. Despite the ongoing debate about which time change is worse, every medical expert agrees that changing the clocks negatively affects our circadian rhythm and sleep habits.

While most of us feel that turning the clock back one hour in the fall is not nearly as evil as turning the clock forward one hour in the spring, we all experience the negative effects of time change. Honestly, there have to be more people out there who believe the Monday after spring forward should be a federal holiday of rest. Who wouldn’t want to avoid those road-raging commuters an hour earlier than usual, with one less hour of sleep – in the dark?  If you live in a cold climate during the winter months, the lack of sunlight is even more problematic.

What can we do about it, other than grumble in our cars like Joe Pesci as we navigate through the early darkness? The Wellness Way is here to help your grumbling. This article will provide some historical facts behind this tyrannical time torture while helping you understand the body’s response to the transition.

Why Are We Time-Tortured Twice a Year?

Apart from Hawaii and Arizona, all states in the U.S. turn their clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday in March for Daylight Savings Time (DST). [1] After about 8 months, clocks are turned back one hour on the first Sunday of November for Standard Time (ST).

Conserving Fuel for War: Not Preserving Daylight for Farmers

Most people are told that Daylight Savings Time was originally intended to increase hours of sunlight to help farmers: This is merely a myth. [2] In fact, farmers detest the practice of turning clocks forward and back twice a year. Switching between late sunrises and early sunsets interferes with the farmer’s morning responsibilities as well as the routine of caring for the animals.

Fun fact:

Benjamin Franklin originally suggested the practice of saving daylight in the late 1700s, followed by an entomologist (a scientist of insects) named George Vernon Hudson in 1895. George wanted a two-hour time change, allowing him even more sunlight after work to go bug-hunting in the summer. [2] Honestly, two additional hours of evening light would be lovely, but using them to hunt bugs is a head-scratcher.

However, when spring forward (Daylight Savings Time) became a law in Germany and the United States during World War I, it was originally intended to conserve fuel for war industries and support economic growth [3] (Not for bug-hunting: Sorry, George).

More daylight hours meant more time spent outside, using less energy inside.

Even though the law’s original purpose was for war, the concept of extending evening sunlight is alluring. When you feel like a cave troll during the fall back (Standard Time) clock, the sun is a most welcome visitor: Four months is a long time to live with so little sunlight.

Farmers openly protested the time change law, and it was repealed in 1919. However, it came back with a vengeance and stuck around like a whiny pop song from 2002: Just when you’re ready to quit humanity when the same horrid pop songs play over and over again on the radio, this musical wound heals over time. You finally enjoy music again for a while: 20 years later, that same pop song sneak-attacks you on a live music stream, and you fight the urge to rip your ears off.

The November time change is like that whiny pop song: Just when we get used to the evening sunshine of Daylight Savings Time, November’s Standard Time change sneak-attacks our sun security. November’s time change smothers our lives in darkness and plays “Hungry Hungry Hippos” with our circadian rhythm.

How Does the Time Change Affect Circadian Rhythm?

Our biological clocks are dictated by the sun. The human body is operated by a circadian rhythm relying on sunlight to regulate sleep, digestion, mood, and overall health. This circadian rhythm trains the body to stimulate “wake up” hormones with the rising sun and into a rested state as the sun sets. When the body’s clock is disrupted by some outdated World War I mandate, we undoubtedly feel the effects of this time shift in the body and mind.

When Daylight Savings Time ends, and we turn our clocks back one hour, mornings have more sunlight. Sadly, many states are in the dark by 5:00 pm, which is also the end of the typical American workday. After working hard all day, it’s disheartening to step out of the building into utter darkness. If you find yourself more exhausted and unhappy during the autumn and winter months, you’re not alone: This delay in your sleep schedule – called circadian misalignment – can contribute to many physical and emotional symptoms.

Circadian Misalignment can cause the following symptoms, according to sleep experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM): [4]

  • Cluster Headaches: More common in men than women, these headaches can occur every day for six to eight weeks. [5] Neurologists claim that the hypothalamus – the part of the brain managing our circadian clock – also generates cluster headaches in response to sunlight deprivation.
  • Migraines: Migraines can be different for everyone, but most experience severe pain, light sensitivity, and throbbing on one side of the head.
  • Insomnia and other Sleep Disorders
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Triggered by a decrease in sunlight and the changing of seasons during fall and winter. Someone afflicted with SAD will often feel depressed, unmotivated, hopeless, and lacking in focus. [6]
  • Moodiness and agitation
  • Social Jetlag: Caused by sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns throughout the week, leading to extreme sleepiness during the day.
  • Food cravings and weight gain
  • Depression and other mental health illnesses

The following environmental and social problems frequently occur after turning clocks back:

  • Traffic Accidents: The most car accidents of the year occur on the Monday after BOTH time shifts. The most fatal crashes of the year occur the Monday after clocks turn an hour ahead in March. [7]
  • Economic Downturn: When the sun sets as early as 4:45 pm in some places, people are less likely to be active outside. For an economist, less activity means that people are not likely to shop, attend sporting events, or go to restaurants in the evening. [7]
  • Increase in Crime: Following the time change in November, early sunsets contribute to an increase in crime. When the clocks turn forward one hour in March for Daylight Savings Time, the total number of robberies, violent street crimes, homicides, and sexual assaults decreases by 51%. Law enforcement officials attribute the drastic drop in crime rates to additional sunlight exposure in the evenings. [8]

What Can We Do About the Tyranny of the Clock?

At The Wellness Way, we look at the roots and soil of a diseased tree rather than just removing the dead branches. We want to see the whole picture of an individual with several functioning systems working cohesively, similar to the gears in a Swiss Watch.

To combat the negative effects of turning the clocks back for winter, The Wellness Way recommends the following:

  • Exercise: Despite the cold weather, exercise is still a vital part of physical, mental, and emotional health. Exercise has been proven to reduce depression and anxiety more effectively than prescription medications. [9] Find the exercise that is most fun for you, such as running, yoga, strength training, or swimming.
  • Outdoor Activities (if possible): If you are able to exercise outside, the fresh air and minimal sunlight will provide even more benefits. Consider the Japanese form of therapy called “Shinrin-yoku”: Literally translated to “forest bathing,” Shinrin-yoku is merely a long walk in the forest. Walking outside purifies the body and mind with fresh air, sunshine, and the simple pleasures of animal sounds and vibrant plant life. Forest Bathing is actually part of clinical therapy for depression and anxiety in Japan. [10]
  • Self-Care and Sleep Health: Stress is a beast on its own, but there are ways to make stress more manageable in a healthy way. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week, ensuring at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Try to find time for relaxing activities that nourish your mind and soul. For example, some people enjoy reading a book, getting a massage, painting, or writing in a journal.
  • Social Connections: Social connections are extremely important during those dark winter months. Arrange social gatherings with friends, play games with your family, read to your children, or have a date night. Those social connections are powerful to a person’s emotional health.
  • Eat a Non-Inflammatory Diet: To overcome the negative effects of the time change and Seasonal Depression Disorder, start by avoiding inflammatory foods. Most neurotransmitters are made in the gut, and these neurotransmitters affect your mood as well as other systems of the body.
  • Embrace Dark Chocolate and Other Antioxidants: Dark chocolate provides a natural boost in serotonin levels, which helps regulate mood.
  • Vitamin D: The lack of sunshine during the winter months following the time transition can deplete our body’s Vitamin D. If you are missing that natural light exposure, take a vitamin D supplement while also increasing foods in your diet that are rich in vitamin D. Salmon, mushrooms, and oysters are excellent natural sources of vitamin D.

Permanent Time Change Could be Just Over the Horizon

Recent polls support how unpopular these time changes are in the United States: 79% of Americans are strongly against the twice-a-year time change. [11] Even though there have been about 450 legislative bills for the establishment of permanent Daylight Savings time, nothing has been signed into law. In fact, many lawmakers share our frustration:

  • In 2022, the Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act to make Daylight Saving Time permanent, but it never passed in the House.
    The bill was intended to boost the economy and decrease crime rates. Unfortunately, the bill expired in December 2022 because Congress never voted. They claimed to have more important matters to consider.[12]
  • Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is trying once again to pass the Sunshine Protection Act of 2023: He has already gained the support of several Senators.
    However, it’s likely that the House will postpone this bill yet again because of other priorities.

Scientists Can’t Agree Which is Worse: The Clock’s Tyranny Continues

There is a controversial debate among sleep experts regarding which time change would be most beneficial to us. Some neurologists and sleep doctors believe Daylight Savings Time could cause some health risks if never switched back to Standard Time. A permanent spring forward time change would mean extra sunlight during the evening hours rather than the morning hours: Dark mornings and light evenings are the opposite of what our circadian clocks are trained for. [13] However, forcing ourselves to adapt to these time changes twice a year arguably causes more harm than a permanent switch either way.

The possibility of a permanent DST or ST in the United States might be just over the horizon. However, we should prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that the sun will set once again on Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act this year. In the meantime, we will keep huddling around those firepits, tossing dead leaves and smashed-up clocks grumpily into the flames – and wait for a permanent time change from the dank walls of our cave dwellings.
At least, until the spring forward time change in March when we all emerge as victims of a stolen hour: Millions of sunlight-deprived zombies driving to work before sunrise on Monday morning.

Videos and Webinars Related to Sleep Health:

Sleep | A Different Perspective | Episode 126

Articles to Support Healthy Sleep Habits and Fighting the Tyranny of the Clock:

Beat the Winter Blues: 7 Healthy Ways to Battle the Blahs
Healthy Z’s: 8 Tips to Get Better Sleep
Do Women Need More Sleep than Men?
Causes of Insomnia: When Melatonin Supplements Aren’t Nearly Enough
Vitamin D

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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