By: Lara Shapiro
You may be feeling a little “off” after Daylight Savings Time began this weekend. With this refreshed hope after long and cold winter months, it’s important to remember that we lose an hour every spring, therefore losing an hour of precious Z’s. While this one hour may seem trivial, it plays a direct role into our circadian rhythms, possibly explaining why you may be feeling somewhat slower this week.
What is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is defined as a daily rhythmic activity cycle, based on 24-hour intervals, that is exhibited by many living organisms. These rhythms can be physical, mental, and/or behavioral, including body temperature, hormones, cognition, and mood.
One example of a light-related circadian rhythm is sleeping at night and being awake during the day, which I’m certain you’re familiar with. Daylight can turn on or turn off our genes that control the molecular structure of our internal biological clocks. The suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, is the body’s master clock. As our optic nerves sense incoming light, or lack thereof, our master clocks are signaled to produce melatonin (the sleepy hormone). More light = less melatonin, and less light = more melatonin.
Why is it important?
Disruption of circadian rhythms has been associated with both physical and psychiatric consequences. Disruptions can be a result of both internal factors such as circadian disorders, and external factors such as shift work. One of the most significant consequences of misalignment of the sleep-wake cycle to the biological night is sleep disturbance and/or daytime sleepiness. With daylight savings time, spring in particular, there is a well-established link between the time change, sleep loss and daytime sleepiness.
What Can I Do?
You may find it beneficial to take small steps to try and keep your rhythms aligned. Try and stay consistent with your regular daily activities such as eating, socializing, exercising and going to bed at the same time every day. To adjust to the time change this year and in the years to come, make a habit of slowing your body down each night. Ease your mind, dim your lights, and refrain from electronics so that your master clock can queue the melatonin and let you slip into a good night’s rest!
Baron, K. G., & Reid, K. J. (2014). Circadian misalignment and health. International Review of Psychiatry, 26(2), 139-154. 10.3109/09540261.2014.911149 Retrieved from www.scopus.com