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Experts talk about the health effects of daylight saving time

The National Institutes of Health found that 150,000 Americans experience physical health problems caused by the biannual time change.

AUSTIN, Texas — This Sunday, we set our clocks back one hour to "fall back" and lose an hour of daylight, meaning an extra hour of sleep.

However, recent studies have pointed out significant health effects associated with the time change. The National Institutes of Health found that 150,000 Americans experience physical health problems caused by biannual time changes. 

Although the study was done in 2020, the message is still relevant today that the changes associated with daylight saving time can negatively impact your health.

Dr. Vivek Goswami, a cardiologist with Heart Hospital of Austin and Austin Heart, said that although most of us may feel like we're acclimated to time changes because it's the only thing we know, recent studies would suggest that our bodies are not necessarily as acclimated. 

"So, studies show that with daylight saving time, it basically creates a disconnect between our circadian rhythm and the sun's natural time clock. And this could lead to sleep disturbance. And, as a result, it can lead to things like fatigue, changes in metabolism, weight gain, changes in blood pressure, headache and mood changes," Goswami said.

Specifically, according to Goswami, research over the last 10 years has suggested that time changes can directly lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease.

"The risk of having a heart attack actually goes up by 24% in the days to weeks following a time change, the risk of having a stroke goes up by 8%. Even things like accidents, we see a rise in fatal car accidents up to 6% in the weeks following a time change," Goswami said.

When it comes to psychiatric illness, there is also an increase in major depressive disorder. 

"So, although we feel like we're somewhat acclimated to these time changes, I think it's important for people to understand that there can be physiologic effects of this. We encourage our patients to kind of ease into it as a result," Goswami said.

Ways to ease into a time change can include ensuring you get seven to nine hours of sleep and transitioning in the days before to minimize the jet lag effect that sometimes can linger for days to weeks following a time change. 

"I think getting out first thing in the morning and getting exposed to the morning sun is a really natural way of realigning our circadian rhythm with the sun's natural time clock," Goswami said.

Exercising first thing in the morning, especially after a time change, can also help because exercise increases body temperature and it's an efficient and natural way of restoring wakefulness and slowly taking the edge off the jet lag effect. 

"It's important to really avoid things that could affect your sleep hygiene. So we advise people to avoid things like caffeine or alcohol, especially around bedtime," Goswami said.

It's also recommended to avoid sleeping with the TV on or any blue light because that can affect the restorative sleep that our bodies need to replenish and make us function to avoid things like fatigue and inability to concentrate throughout the day.

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