Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
10:14 AM 26th March 2024

How To Get Ready For The Clocks Change This Weekend

As our mornings get brighter and our evenings get lighter, the last Sunday of March marks the beginning of British Summer Time (BST), which this year falls on March 31st at 1am.

photo credit Shutterstock - Brian A Jackson
photo credit Shutterstock - Brian A Jackson
Every year when the clocks go forward, there is a corresponding increase in the number of heart attacks and car accidents - that’s according to body clock expert Dr Gisela Helfer, from the University of Bradford.

The chronobiologist, who specialises in circadian rhythms, says a growing body of research suggests a link between annual clock changes and our health and wellbeing.

In 2014, the American College of Cardiology reported a link between clock changes and a rise in heart attacks. A 2013 study in the US found a link between cardiac arrests on the Monday following clocks going forward. As recently as November 2022, the American Medical Association called for an end to DST.

In 2018, the RAC published a report based on five years worth of accident data from the Department for Transport looking at collision data in the two weeks either side of the clocks change. It concluded there were fewer collisions when clocks go forward (-1.5%) but this was far outweighed by a 5.1% increase when clocks go back in October.

Surveys by car rental and insurance companies have also suggested a link between clock changes and car accidents, particularly when clocks ‘go back’, as this means more people are driving in poor light conditions.

Dr Helfer said:
“Quite a few studies have now looked at a correlation between the clock change and things like heart attacks and car accidents. The results are quite astonishing.

“Every time we change the clocks, what we are effectively doing is giving the entire country a form of jet lag. This interferes with our circadian rhythm, and puts stress on our immune systems. Having to suddenly get up an hour earlier than you would normally interferes with our hormone levels, which usually control when we sleep and when we wake up.

“In terms of why it leads to an increase in heart attacks and accidents, put very simply, with heart attacks you are putting the body under stress, whereas with accidents, if you think about levels of alertness, you would expect people with jet lag to be less alert.

“Clock changes were brought in originally to save money but there is currently no need to do this. I would argue it is time to end the practice of changing the clocks twice a year.

“We have circadian rhythms for good reason. If you think about animals trying to predict the best time of day to look for food or avoid predators or rest, a rhythm that is closely related (circa) to the day (dian) makes a lot of sense. When this is disrupted, it has inevitable consequences in terms of behaviour and physiological response.”

How to combat clock change jet lag

Dr Helfer says there are some simple tips people can follow to help mitigate the effects of annual clock changes. These include:

Getting up 15 minutes earlier each day in the week before clocks change
Go for a walk in sunlight in the morning to help your body clock reset
Do not eat after 8pm (or sundown) to prepare your body for sleep

Clocks change history

Clock changes in the UK date back to 1916 (during the First World War), when it was introduced via the British Summer Time Act as a way of saving energy and to give farmers more daylight. During the Second World War, the UK moved to ‘Double British Summer Time’ (GMT+2) and this was repeated in 1947, before reverting to normal BST.

From 1968 to 1971, the UK actually moved to a system of British Summer Time all year round (in an attempt to help industry work more closely with their European counterparts) but the system was abandoned because people in northern parts of the UK were deprived of light for most of the morning during winter.

The Summer Time Act 1972 re-introduced BST and established a new framework for when it should begin and end.

In 2019, the EU voted to end mandating daylight saving time, meaning each EU country could decide whether it wanted to adopt a permanent ‘winter’ or ‘summer’ clock - however, the plans were shelved due to the pandemic and have not since been revisited.

photo credit Shutterstock - fizkes
photo credit Shutterstock - fizkes
While the clocks go forward and we all lose an hour of sleep this Sunday morning, James Wilson from Mattress Online cautioned it's not the morning when people might feel the effect, but the night.

James, also known as ‘The Sleep Geek’, said:
"Most of us will lie in on a weekend, so the adjustment in wake-up time is not too noticeable. One thing to consider though is that on Sunday night, your normal bedtime will be one hour earlier on the clock than your body expects. So, you have a decision to make. One option is to go to bed when your body feels tired, which means staying up an extra hour on the clock compared with the previous day. Going to bed when you feel sleepy is usually the best option. In this instance, you will have to spend an hour less in bed in the morning. But the little bit of sleep deprivation this causes isn't such a bad thing, as it will drive your body to go to bed a bit earlier the next day. This is how your bedtimes realign when the clocks change. Helpfully, Easter weekend and the school holidays are often right there, giving your body the opportunity to adjust.

“Getting out in natural daylight on Sunday will also help set your body clock and should allow your body to adjust to the change faster.

“The other option is to try and go to bed an hour before your body feels ready. Realistically though, you’re more likely to lay awake, frustrated that you’re failing to get to sleep. And you’ll feel less prepared for sleep as your body has been inactive for an hour.

"If you’re worrying about getting to sleep, then try some self-care to relax before bed: This could be listening to calming music, reading a book or taking a warm bath. Self-care habits include limiting your caffeinated drinks intake, exercising regularly and no alcohol before bed.”

"Most people who don't have sleeping issues should naturally adjust to the change within a couple of days, if not sooner. However, if you do struggle to sleep, there are key things to get right before seeking the help of a professional.

"Waking up as close to the same time every day as possible, including weekends, and having a consistent targeted sleep time. However, it is important to only go to bed when sleepy. He also suggests creating a better sleeping environment by making sure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. And check that your pillows and mattress are still comfortable and don’t need changing."

photo credit Shutterstock - Tero Vesalainen
photo credit Shutterstock - Tero Vesalainen
Mattress Online has a number of different methods it recommends for better sleep, including a form of self-hypnosis known as ‘finger breathing,’ which can be used to bring you back into a calmer state of mind.

If you are still struggling to go to sleep, it is recommended that you discuss your concerns with a GP.

Clocks change…

And remember, this year the clocks go forward at 1am on Sunday March 31.

For more information about University of Bradford click here

Some research was carried out by Mattress Online