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Daylight savings time: does it affect employees’ health?

Daylight savings time indicates the beginning of spring and increased energy. Turning the clock ahead one hour at this time of year provides more afternoon sunlight for outdoor exercise, which is good for one’s health. The opportunity for increased sunlight has even been linked to decreased symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and depression. But does changing the time have a negative effect on sleep and does this negatively affect employees’ health and productivity?

More specifically, does the clock shifting an hour disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause health problems?

Some say that it does tend to reduce the efficiency of sleep for a couple of weeks following a time change and this can affect a person’s health.

We know that we have a natural sleep rhythm that revolves around sunrise and sunset. Our bodies react to these events by releasing different hormones that are necessary for our bodies to function properly. Light levels also trigger other events such as changes in body temperature, alertness and appetite. The importance of a regular sleeping schedule cannot be understated; our bodies favour certain patterns in order to operate efficiently. Some people, such as myself, cannot help but wake up very early and accomplish the most intelligible work in the morning. Others are night owls who feel their most efficient work occurs late at night.

Sleep disruptions can cause stress to the body, and this can lead to stress responses such as fatigue, impaired immunity to disease and general irritability.

Does an hour really make that much of a difference?

Some say yes. We know people can be negatively affected by extrinsic disruptions to the circadian rhythm, such as flying across different time zones or working shift work.

What’s more, some studies point to an increase in illnesses and car accidents in the week or two following the time change. Some countries have even decided to abolish daylight savings time due to the health concerns such as increased heart attack and suicide rates.

Some may find it more difficult to adjust than others, especially those with sleep disorders.

For those who are more sensitive, it may be a good idea to adjust the sleep schedule in smaller increments over several days. Another thing that can help is to use light to your advantage; for example, expose yourself to light in the morning to get yourself going (for example, use a sunrise alarm). Similarly, do not turn on a bright light when getting a glass of water in the middle of the night.

Along the same lines, it may help to have a sleeping routine, one that includes the rule, “no caffeine after 3:00 p.m. and no alcohol after 6:00 p.m.” Some things to include in the routine before sleep may include stretching, bathing, drinking calming tea and using an eye mask or drawing the curtains. Some say that eating a snack consisting of carbohydrates can help.

Typically, losing one hour in the spring is more difficult on the body than gaining an hour in the fall.

So employees, be aware that it could be an issue, and do what you can to minimize the impact of the time change by getting some extra sleep after the change. Employers, have patience as employees adjust in the first week after the time change. (Try not to notice if they look a little groggy!)

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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