Here’s How Daylight Savings Affects Your Health, Mood And Performance

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“Spring forward, fall back.”

It sounds innocuous, almost singsong, but anyone who has memorized this famous saying knows that it’s a phrase that serves as a reminder of how to set the clocks going into and out of Daylight Savings Time. Many adults have come to dread the saying, particularly the “spring forward” component.

Although not observed in every state in the United States, nor every country around the world, daylight savings time is still observed by 76 countries —or a bit less than 40% of the world in terms of population—in 2022. 

Moreover, for those who live in areas that observe daylight savings time, the seemingly minor 60-minute time change during DST can have huge ramifications on health, mood, and even fitness performance.

This guide will look at how daylight savings time affects health, mood, and performance and what you can do to navigate the time change as we prepare to “spring forward.”

We will cover: 

  • What Is Daylight Savings Time?
  • Why Do We Practice Daylight Savings Time?
  • Here’s How Daylight Savings Affects Yours Health, Mood and Performance
  • The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Health
  • The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Mood
  • The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Fitness and Exercise Performance 
  • Tips for a Smooth Transition Into Daylight Savings Time

Let’s get started! 

Daylight savings time clock in the grass.

What Is Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight Savings Time (DST) involves setting the clocks forward one hour in the spring (usually mid-March), which is the “spring forward” component and beginning of daylight savings time, and setting them back one hour in the fall (usually the first Sunday in November), which is the end of daylight savings time.

This practice is to maximize the evening daylight hours over the warmer months.

When the clocks “spring forward” or get advanced one hour in the spring, we lose an hour of sleep. In the fall, we gain an extra hour of sleep during the night that we “fall back” when DST ends.

Why Do We Practice Daylight Savings Time?

DST was initially implemented in Europe during World War I to conserve fuel and adopted in the US shortly after that. However, the practice was received poorly because people did not like how dark it was and how difficult it felt to wake up in the morning during the colder months. 

The decision to stop daylight savings time lasted several decades until it was reinstated and standardized in the US in 1966. It was reinstated yet again with the thinking that if there were more natural lighting in the evening during the warmer summer months, people would not need to use as much lighting and energy at home.

Spring forward daylight savings time clock surrounded by white flowers.

Here’s How Daylight Savings Affects Yours Health, Mood and Performance

Surveys have shown that most adults favor getting rid of daylight saving time. The time change interferes with how we feel and throws off our sleep schedules, appetite, energy levels, overall routine, and mood. 

Though grumbling and moaning about losing one hour of sleep one night per year and having to wake up in the pitch dark for several weeks after we “spring forward” may seem like mere complaining or exaggerating a mild, petty nuisance into a significant issue, as it turns out, evidence suggests that our discomfort and struggles with the time change are valid. 

Most health experts now agree that shifting the time in DST is harmful to our health, mood, and performance. Doctors and scientists also support the idea that “seasonal time changes should be abolished in favor of a national, fixed, year-round time,” stated in the 2020 American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement on daylight savings time.

A woman in bed holding her forehead having trouble sleeping.

The position statement notes that the “abundance of accumulated evidence indicates that the acute transition from standard time to daylight saving time incurs significant public health and safety risks, including increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, mood disorders, and motor vehicle crashes.”

But, why does daylight savings affect our health, mood, and performance? Ultimately it comes down to the effects that changing the clocks impose on the body’s circadian rhythm, which governs our sleep/wake cycles, hormones, and other functions. 

Advancing the clock time and springing forward in DST coupled with the change in the lighting/darkness upon waking for weeks after, disrupts the natural biological clock, contributing to circadian misalignment and subsequent physical and mental health consequences.

The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Health

The circadian rhythm disruptions and initial loss of sleep when we “spring forward” and enter daylight savings time can have numerous health consequences, including the following:

A man in bed turning off his alarm clock looking very tired.

#1: Sleep Disruptions

First and foremost, advancing the clock time as we “spring forward” and begin daylight savings time disrupts sleep. We not only lose the hour of sleep on the first night but shifting the clock causes circadian misalignment and can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. 

Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality are associated with increased risk of accidents, chronic disease, obesity, and depression.

#2: Increased Risk of Heart Attacks

Studies have shown that the risk of myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks, increases by about 10% on the morning when daylight savings time begins.

#3: Increased Risk of Strokes

A Finnish study found that the risk of ischemic stroke rises about 8% during the first two days of daylight savings time due to fatigue, poor sleep, and circadian disruptions. 

A man sitting down with his head in his hands.

#4: Increased Risk of Accidents

Lack of sleep can impact coordination, judgment, reaction time, and focus. Studies have found that the rates of workplace accidents and traffic accidents increase in the first several days of daylight savings time after advancing the clocks forward.

#5: Increased Risk of Miscarriage 

Interestingly, disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm can profoundly affect your hormones. 

A 2017 study of IVF patients found a greater risk of pregnancy loss (24.3%) after embryo transfer when daylight saving time began in the spring than before daylight saving time (15.5%).

The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Mood

Changing the clock time during daylight savings can also affect your mood and mental health. Here are some of the ways that DST can impact your mood:

A woman falling asleep at her desk.

#1: Increased Risk of Depression

Both the loss of sleep and the shift in the day/light settings can cause a dip in mood and increase the risk of depressive symptoms. For example, a 17-year Danish study of 185,419 hospital visits found that the intake rate for patients diagnosed with depression rose by 11% over the first ten weeks of daylight savings. 

#2: Poorer Productivity and Focus

Research suggests a loss of productivity when we enter DST, coupled with increased time spent browsing the internet.

#3: Lowered Motivation

Some people find the dark morning hours make it difficult to wake up ready to conquer the day. 

The Effects of Daylight Savings Time On Fitness and Exercise Performance 

The various physical and mental health consequences of springing forward in daylight savings time can undoubtedly work against your fitness and exercise performance. That said, if you’ve been struggling to get through your runs or the weights you’re lifting at the gym are suddenly feeling nearly impossible to handle for the whole set, you’re not alone:

A woman on a bridge resting, looking exhausted from exercising.

#1: Reduced Performance

Listen up, marathoners: Evidence suggests that marathon performance declines over the first few days of daylight savings in spring. One recent study found marathon performance on the spring DST time change day was 12.3 min (4.1%) worse than during the same marathon on days when it was not held on the first day of DST.

#2: Loss of Motivation

The more tired you are and the darker it is outside, the more difficult it is to rouse yourself to go for a run or hit a hard workout. 

A 2010 Australian study found that after the time change at the start of daylight savings, 25% of exercise sessions switched from morning to evening, and 8% of consistent exercisers stopped working out altogether.

#3: Increased Appetite

Lack of sleep can increase hunger hormones like ghrelin and may decrease leptin levels, a hormone that signals satiety, causing you to eat more. 

#4: Reduced Energy

The more fatigued you are, the less force, power, speed, coordination, and stamina you’ll have for your workouts.

A man on the floor of a gym passed out from exhaustion.

Tips for a Smooth Transition Into Daylight Savings Time

If you live in a state or country that observes daylight savings time, you may not be able to choose to keep your clocks where they are, but you can mitigate the health risks associated with the time change by helping support your body through the transition. Here are a few DST tips:

  • Ease into the time change the days previous by getting up 15 minutes earlier each morning and going to bed 15 minutes earlier each evening.
  • Limit caffeine and stimulants after lunch to minimize sleep disruptions. Studies show caffeine affects sleep for up to six hours after it is ingested.
  • Expose yourself to bright light upon waking. If there’s no natural sun, consider buying a light therapy lamp, which replicates the 10,000 lumens of the sun.
  • Avoid driving or using machinery when you are sleep deprived.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Try to maintain your exercise routine, but consider reducing the intensity of your workouts for a few days as you adjust to your new sleep schedule.

Who would have thought adjusting the clocks for just one hour would have such repercussions on our bodies and minds? Try out these tips before the next change to make your transition more comfortable.

If you would like to try out the practice of mindfulness, check out our article on how to get started: What Is Mindfulness? | Our Gateway To The Present

Daylight savings time clock, fall back.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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