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Your Healthy Family: Time change - why your body clock likes an early bedtime

Posted at 3:06 PM, Nov 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-05 18:46:47-04

AURORA — In this Your Healthy Family, as we head toward Sunday morning’s switch back to standard time off daylight saving time, most people will simply enjoy the extra hour of sleep. But for those who are sensitive to sleep issues, and the doctors who treat them, let’s just say they are bracing for impact.

I spoke with Dr. Katherine Green, MD, who is a sleep surgeon with UCHealth, and I asked her what comes to her mind when these time changes roll around twice a year. “Chaos in the brain is so high. The time change is a challenge every year, and we do this twice a year. There are different challenges that come with the time change in the spring vs. the time change we are about to experience in the fall.”

Turns out the real issues with the time change isn’t so much the clock as the time reads; they are tied to the sun.

Dr. Green says, “What we know from a medical standpoint and from a sleep physician standpoint is that the time change really does have an effect on our circadian rhythm. Light cycles are our strongest -
environmental cue of our body’s natural biological clock."

Even if you think you handle the fall back time change in the fall just fine, Dr. Green says it may be hitting you in subtle ways. “This is the sneakier of the two time changes because I feel like everyone knows that the one in the spring, when you lose an hour of sleep, is tougher. We know there are real ramifications to getting an hour less of sleep and we see that from a medical standpoint in the spring when there's an increase in emergency room visits, a spike in cardiovascular events, motor vehicle and workplace accidents on the Monday after (the time change).”

Starting on Sunday, after the time-change this week, the biggest thing you’ll notice is it will get darker earlier in the evening, which is actually what is best for our body’s natural sleep cycle, but is contrary to what our human nature might be in this day and age.

Dr. Green says, “We all feel like it's great to have afternoon light when the days are longer; it’s no fun to get off work and have it be getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. But actually, with our body's natural clock being driven by light exposure, with getting the most in the morning - or in those first hours when we wake up, and then light exposure really should diminish throughout the day and be the least in the evening hours when we prepare for bedtime.”

In future stories with Dr. Green we will be discussing topics like what the optimal sleep environment is, seasonal affective disorder, and whether putting an end to changing the clocks would be a good thing for our sleep quality overall.

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