'Spring forward': Father of CLOCK gene weighs in on Daylight Saving Time

Liz Meszaros, MDLinx | March 09, 2017

Daylight saving time starts this weekend—at 2 am on Sunday, March 12.


One less hour of sleep, one more hour of daylight

The effects of losing an hour of sleep are many, and can touch on several components of daily life, including driving.

Ninety-nine years ago, daylight saving time was first adopted as an experiment in energy conservation during World War I. It was resurrected several decades later, and consists of advancing clocks by one hour so that evening daylight lasts one hour longer, balancing this addition with subtraction from normal sunrise times during the spring and summer months.

Several studies have tried to shed light on what effects this practice, which involves losing an hour of sleep initially, has on daily life. Joseph Takahashi, father of the CLOCK gene, and professor and chairman of the department of neuroscience, Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, weighed in on how this practice may affect the body clock.

First are the studies that have shown that in the days immediately following the conversion to daylight saving time, daytime sleepiness and less attentiveness at school and at work are possible.

“It is likely that advancing our clocks in the spring would more affect night owls, those individuals who tend to stay awake later at night and consequently wake up later in the morning,” said Dr. Takahashi, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, who holds the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience, and is the 2016 recipient of the Peter Farrell Prize in Sleep Medicine.

 “Less affected are the larks, those individuals who tend to wake up early and go to sleep earlier. Since being an owl or a lark is in large part genetically influenced, the best way to deal with daylight saving time is to be self-aware of your chronotype (early versus late awakening and sleeping) and to realize that advancing your clock will be harder if you are an owl and easier if you are a lark,” he added.

Next are the studies based on the possibility that motor vehicle accidents can spike directly after daylight saving time starts, especially on the Monday after the clock jumps forward. Studies have both supported and debunked this.

Dr. Takahashi’s advice: “Perhaps it might be a good approach to be sure to go to sleep slightly ahead of your normal bedtime, have an extra coffee and be vigilant on the road.”

Finally, studies have actually demonstrated that the rate of myocardial infarctions increases in the first few days after daylight saving time starts.

“It is now well established that the incidence of heart attacks is highest in the morning. Since waking up one hour earlier adds to stress and sleep deprivation, these might contribute to the increase,” noted Dr. Takahashi.

He offered some general tips on how to better adjust to the new schedule each year:

“As we discussed, self-awareness of your chronotype and good sleep hygiene are the best tips. To self-assess your chronotype, you can take a simple questionnaire at Munich Chronotype. You can also check out the National Sleep Foundation.”