Ask Dr. Pat · Health

The Annual Sleep-Loss Day

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

I counsel patients to wake up with gratitude, begin salutations to the sun with meditative breathing exercises, and start the day with positive thoughts. But today the physician can’t take her own advice.

Today is the worst day of the year for me.  It is the first work day after the “spring ahead” impact of Daylight Saving Time. Daylight Saving Time, currently adopted in more than 70 countries, imposes a twice-yearly one-hour change in local clock time. The start of Daylight Saving Time in the spring leads to the loss of one hour of sleep on the night of the transition, but its impact on the following days continues.

Today is the day that I had to begin my workday one hour early, and in darkness, I might add.  Apparently the purpose of Daylight Saving Time is to save electricity because it provides more hours of natural light.  I still don’t understand how I am saving electricity by wandering around with the lights on for an hour longer every morning. My hour of morning light has been moved to the evening for people who want to walk or bicycle in the evening light.  I wish these people would just go to the gym or do a Jane Fonda workout video indoors and leave my morning hour of sleep alone.

Experts who study circadian rhythms and sleep disorders understand that the symptoms I experience at the start of Daylight Saving Time each year are not unusual.  I just complain about the symptoms more than most people do.  I have anxiety about the loss of my hour of morning sleep for weeks before the dreaded change in the clocks occurs, and then I suffer from sleep deprivation symptoms for a week after the change.  I consume more coffee to overcome daytime drowsiness and then take more drugs to prevent the destruction of my stomach lining from the coffee.  And I am certainly cranky.

Studies and personal anecdotes supporting the destructive impact are of this antiquated idea are legion.  Daylight Saving Time has been documented to alter sleep patterns for weeks, affecting mood, job performance, health, and the severity of auto accidents.

In its October 30, 2008, issue, The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of an epidemiological review of all the heart attacks in Sweden from 1987 to 2006. The authors, Richard Ljung and Imre Jansky, discovered a slight increase in heart attacks in the first 3 working days after clocks were set ahead for the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in the spring and a similar decrease on the Monday after clocks were set back for the end of DST in the fall. And, wouldn’t you know it? Women seemed to be slightly more at risk than men for heart attacks in the spring.

We know that:

  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk factors for heart attacks, including high blood pressure, the production of toxic inflammatory proteins, and obesity.
  • In addition, with this loss of a morning hour, our bodies lose an hour of preparation for the inevitable rise in cortisol and other hormones and chemicals that  prepare us to begin our day.  Many of these can also cause stress on an already damaged cardiovascular system.
  • Sleep is necessary for the proper control of the internal clock of every cell in the body.  With the change in the sleep-wake cycle, there is an increase in  the production of chemicals that affect inflammation and the immune system.
  • Morning light is the most important light for synchronizing our circadian rhythms.  Of course, Daylight Saving Time takes away an hour of morning light.  This increases the risk of seasonal affective disorder and, in some people, depression.
  • A study based on suicide data in Australia from 1971 through 2001 confirmed that male suicide rates rose in the weeks following the change to Daylight Saving Time, compared with the weeks following the return to standard time and the rest of the year.

I have to fight the need for that extra hour of sleep for weeks, since I am forced to rise one hour earlier, thanks to the bureaucrats in Washington who have nothing better to do than mess around with my inner clock. They have created so many national holidays just for an excuse for three day weekends.  Why not introduce a new holiday, the National Day to Recover From Daylight Saving Time? Then we who are wounded from the loss of our hour of sleep can have an extra day to recover.

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  • Roz Warren March 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I’ve always disliked DST. Now I understand why.

  • Judith A. Ross March 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

    When I was working fulltime I resented that the lost hour would come out of my precious weekend. And now that I’m not, it almost feels worse, since I don’t need an alarm and rely more than ever on my internal clock. I couldn’t believe how late it was when I got going this morning. Does it save electricity? Show us the data, please.

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson March 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Wonderful information. I, too, see no need for DST. Very disruptive.

    Shall we petition Congress?
    I plan to send readers of my website to this article. Thanx,

  • Penelope Marshall March 11, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Count me in your camp! As a resident of the southern coast of Maine where morning light comes earlier, I am already aggrieved by losing that early light when I wake at my usual 6 while visiting my daughter on Florida’s west coast. And now, total dark again plus aggravated inflammation in an ankle for which I’m swilling down ibuprofen at an age when I shouldn’t.

    Where do I go to sign the petition for the National Day to Recover from sleep deprivation?

  • Marsi March 11, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I agree with you about everything but for one thing: Daylight Savings participation is determined on the state, not federal, level. My state’s legislature proposes nixing it every year, and every year it gets shot down in committee. This year, the ski resort industry shot it down.

  • Diane Dettmann March 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Thanks Dr. Pat for the Daylight Saving Time article. I woke up out of sorts this morning. I feel much better after reading your insights. Love the National Day to Recover From Daylight Saving Time idea, could of used it when I was teaching. A classroom of cranky first graders makes for a long day. Glad I’m retired and don’t have to go to work!