What Springing Forward Means for Senior Health

March 5, 2019

At 2 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, March 10, 2019, something happens that has a small but significant impact on the collective health of our friends and family across the country:

We move the clocks 1 hour ahead.

Yes– We’re talking about Daylight Savings. The idea of moving the clock one hour forward makes most people groan at the prospect of losing a precious hour of sleep. In reality, there’s a lot more to it than that. 

Sleep disruption can have a serious negative impact on health, especially for seniors. Losing an hour of sleep can cause distress for the heart and cardiac system, leading to an increase in cardiac events on the first days of Daylight Savings Time. Sleep-deprived seniors are more likely to fall, and more likely to make mistakes with their medicine, both of which have potential for lasting consequences. Overworked caregivers, whether family or professional, will be dealing with their own sleep deprivation while tending to the greater needs of their patients.

For seniors with Alzheimer’s or other memory difficulties, Daylight Savings can be very unsettling. This is particularly hard on those with sundown syndrome, who are prone to increased forgetfulness and confusion at the end of the day even without a sudden disorienting change in light patterns.  In addition, diabetics should be extra vigilant about monitoring blood sugar, as sleep disturbance can increase insulin resistance.

Even those of us without underlying health concerns should be aware of the potential for disruptions in memory, mental performance and mood with any type of sleep schedule change, including Daylight Savings. With that in mind, there are ways to help your body transition more easily to a new time schedule.

Top Tips for Adapting to Time Changes:
  1. Morning sunlight. Exposing yourself to natural light as soon as you wake up, whether through taking a walk or eating by a window, helps your body to wake up and start adapting to your new schedule.
  2. Limiting caffeine. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after midday to prevent additional sleep disruptions.
  3. Stay awake during the day. Avoid napping (unless truly necessary)– it’ll help you to fall asleep quickly in the evening and get back on track.
  4. Avoid driving. If you can feel that you slept poorly or are otherwise overtired, find other ways of transportation. Car accidents increase in the days after the clocks spring forward, likely due to increased driver fatigue.
  5. Make incremental adjustments. To avoid an abrupt schedule change, you can try to slowly move your meal times and sleep schedule up in the days leading up to Daylight Savings.

If you or a family member struggles with a condition that is worsened by sleep and schedule disruptions, talk to a medical professional about how to best manage time changes. Reach your Amicus doctor here.

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