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Daylight saving time: Some health, even survival, tips

March 10, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Daylight saving time begins this weekend.
Daylight saving time begins this weekend. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

Daylight saving time starts this weekend, as it does at roughly this time every year. It's when we "spring forward" one hour with the clocks so we can enjoy more sunshine at the end of the day. Sounds like a perfectly good thing, right?

As benign as it might seem, daylight saving time has a dark side. Although many people quickly acclimate to the change, others suffer sleep setbacks, anxiety, missed appointments, even car accidents as a result. In extreme cases, they can spend days feeling as if something is "off," experts say.

The jet-lag feeling will pass in time, said Helena Schotland, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan and a researcher at the school's sleep disorders laboratory.

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"But there are more issues in terms of safety," she told The Times.

First, the spring ahead leaves people sleep deprived. And then some forget to change their clocks -- or fail to change a crucial clock, such as the alarm clock. They can realize their mistake when they're already in danger of being late for work or a critical appointment -- and have to rush about frantically. That gets the week off to a rocky start.

Some studies show a spike in car accidents in the days just after the time change, Schotland said, perhaps due to all that rushing around as well as the unexpected surprise of seeing the sun's new placement in the sky. Suddenly, you're driving home and the sun is in your eyes.

"Any little variation -- if you're used to driving at a certain time, you're used to seeing the sun in a certain place -- any little variation can throw people off," she said. "Human beings like change to be gradual, not sudden changes."

There's also some evidence that the risk for heart attack might rise after a time change. The reasons for that are still unclear, Schotland said, adding that such research has only recently come to her attention and that she's looking forward to digging in for answers.

So what to do?

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

"Don't leave everything to the last minute," she said. 

It's far better to ease into the time change. If possible, go to sleep a bit earlier for a few nights in advance.

"The problem," Schotland said, "is when people fail to give their bodies a chance to catch up."

Technically, the time changes at 2 a.m. Sunday (except in Arizona and Hawaii). But Schotland, herself, gets ready on Saturday. That's when she changes every clock -- the one in the car, the one on the microwave, the stove, etc.

And when she wakes up Sunday morning, she forces herself to immediately adopt a normal schedule. She also advises against napping, no matter how tempting it may be. "It will just make it that much harder" to acclimate, she said. Instead, save the naps until you're sure your normal sleep patterns have resumed.

Also, look over your schedule for Sunday and Monday and plan accordingly. If you're meeting people, call them in advance to make sure they haven't overlooked the time change.

Finally, if you're driving, leave early and take extra care, realizing that other drivers might be a bit more frantic than usual behind the wheel.

Most important: Find a way to enjoy all that extra sunshine at the end of the day.

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