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Why Is Daylight Savings So Difficult in the Spring?

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Across the country and across the world, people everywhere set their clocks ahead by an hour. Then the next day, they wake up feeling groggy, even if they got a full eight hours of sleep. And sometimes even the next week! What’s up with that?

Daylight saving is, honestly, kind of a weird custom that few of us fully understand. So let’s explore the topic here, together!

Why Daylight Saving Time Exists

First of all, even though most people say “daylight savings time”, it’s actually technically just daylight saving time, without the ‘s’. Though there are many conflicting theories about who first originated the idea of daylight saving time, the idea has always remained roughly the same: it exists to help us better take advantage of day time hours and to save energy that would normally be used during the nighttime hours.

Daylight saving became official and regulated in the United States in 1966, though to this day there are still two states (Hawaii and Arizona) who don’t observe it. In fact, worldwide, only about 40% of all nations implement daylight saving time – and not all countries observe it on the same day! For instance, if you’re in the US and your friend is in the United Kingdom, you’ll turn your clock forward this week, but your friend won’t change her clock for two more weeks!

What Happens to Your Body

It seems pretty common sense that skipping an hour of nighttime would result in sleepier days. Your circadian rhythm – the natural cycle of your body that dictates when you sleep and wake – is thrown off just slightly by the sudden change in time. It’s kind of like a mini-jetlag; instead of the major shift you experience going from one time zone to another, you experience  a tiny shift in your own circadian rhythm. Like with jetlag, it’s harder to lose time than to gain time, which is why daylight saving in the spring is harder than in the fall. 

This tiny shift can have a bunch of effects on your body, though not all research on the topic has been 100% conclusive. There is a definite spike in heart attacks, car accidents, and other health problems in the days following the spring daylight saving change, but whether it’s a connection or a simply correlation is another matter. But one thing you can rely on is that grogginess, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue-related symptoms will abound in the week after you set your clocks ahead! It can take up to a week for your body to fully adjust to the one-hour time change, and adults over age 65 can actually have more difficulty adjusting.

How to Deal (When the DST Struggle is Real)

Just like there is no magical jet lag cure out there (though our Jet Lag Rx comes close), there’s also no magical cure for daylight saving fatigue. You’ll likely feel tired for a couple of days, but just like with most cases of jet lag, you’ll find that the grogginess passes within a week. Though you’ll want to go to bed an hour earlier to compensate for the hour lost due to daylight saving, this is probably not the best solution! Because your body isn’t used to going to bed at that time, you’ll actually end up lying awake for longer, and struggling more to get to sleep – which will make you even more tired in the morning. Instead, try going to bed just fifteen minutes earlier every night to slowly adjust your body to the new schedule.

Ultimately, since your circadian rhythm is regulated by light exposure, the best thing you can do is expose yourself to a lot of light – particularly daylight. It’ll help your body naturally adjust to the time change quickly. This is a great excuse to get outside and soak up some rays! Besides, the whole point of daylight saving time is to give you more daytime, so shouldn’t you be enjoying your extra hour of sunlight anyway?

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