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How daylight saving time affects your health

Changing the clock to daylight saving time (DST) is more than an inconvenience. In fact, the practice may have health implications that far outweigh its purported benefits. Here’s what you should know.

Your internal clock
Your body regulates a plethora of functions thanks to your hypothalamus, a region of the brain that acts as a central clock. This clock keeps time by using cues like socialization, temperature, food intake and light, all of which change gradually throughout the year. A gradual change is manageable, but switching to DST is an abrupt shift that has a number of consequences.

Short-term effects
Studies indicate that there’s an increase in heart attacks following both the fall and spring time changes. Some researchers report that there are up to 24 percent more cases than normal the Monday following the spring switch.

In addition, emergency room visits increase following the time change. This is due to the higher incidence of automobile and workplace accidents, both of which are likely caused by the immediate cognitive effects of the time change.

Changing the clocks also has mental health consequences. A change in sleep patterns can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and exacerbate existing conditions like depression and anxiety.

Long-term effects
DST causes a phenomenon called “social jetlag,” which refers to a discrepancy between our social and biological clocks. Many studies have found associations between social jetlag and obesity, smoking, alcohol use, depression and cardiovascular symptoms. Furthermore, research indicates that the sustained stress put on our bodies by social jetlag increases the risks of cardiovascular and endocrine problems.

While DST is a fact of life for many people, it’s possible to limit its impact by adjusting your bedtime a few days in advance.

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