Affected By the Time Change? You're Not Alone

The fall time change brings a sudden change in driving conditions in the late afternoon rush hour, from driving home from work during daylight hours to driving home in darkness, while the spring time change leads to more daylight in the evening, which may disturb some people's sleep, NIOSH Research Health Scientist Claire Caruso, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, explains in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

NIOSH shared some helpful information and advice from Claire Caruso, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, a research health scientist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology, about coping with the "spring forward" adjustment to Daylight Saving Time. While a few studies have examined how the spring and fall time changes affect workers, many questions remain, including the best strategies to cope with them, she writes in a NIOSH Science Blog post dated March 9.

It can take about one week for a person's body to adjust the new times for sleeping, eating, and activity, Caruso explains. Until the person has adjusted, he or she can have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up at the right time, which can lead to sleep deprivation, reduced performance, and a higher risk for mistakes, including vehicle crashes. Workers can experience somewhat higher risks to both their health and safety after the time changes (Harrison, 2013). A study by Kirchberger and colleagues (2015) reported men and persons with heart disease may be at higher risk for a heart attack during the week after the time changes in the spring and fall, Caruso notes.

While disruption to circadian rhythms and sleep are at work here, the fall time change brings a sudden change in driving conditions in the late afternoon rush hour, from driving home from work during daylight hours to driving home in darkness, she writes, adding that the spring time change leads to more daylight in the evening, which may disturb some people's sleep.

"To help reduce risks about one and a half weeks before the time changes in the Fall and Spring, employers can relay these points to help their workers," she writes, adding these and other recommendations:

  • Remind workers that several days after the time changes are associated with somewhat higher health and safety risks due to disturbances to circadian rhythms and sleep.
  • It can take one week for the body to adjust sleep times and circadian rhythms to the time change, so consider reducing demanding physical and mental tasks as much as possible that week.
  • Remind workers to be especially vigilant while driving, at work, and at home to protect themselves, because others around them may be sleepier and at risk for making an error that can cause a vehicle crash or other type of accident.
  • One way to help the body adjust is to gradually change the times for sleep, eating, and activity. For the spring time change, starting about three days before, one can gradually move up the timing of waking and bedtime, meals, exercise, and exposure to light earlier by 15-20 minutes each day until these are in line with the new time. About one hour before bedtime, keep the lights dim and avoid electronic lit screens on computers, tablets, etc.. For the fall time change, starting about three days before, gradually move the timing of wakening and bedtime, meals, exercise, and exposure to light later by 15-20 minutes each day until these are in line with the new time.

People who sleep for seven hours or less per day tend to have more problems with the time changes (Harrison, 2013).

Caruso's post includes a link to an online training program, "NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours," and she explains that it has many suggestions for coping with various types of work schedules and improving sleep.

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