Each year we “spring forward” one hour for the start of daylight savings time. The longer evenings and less artificial light may be a reason to rejoice for some, but for the elderly, this isn’t always the case. For seniors especially, there are some negative effects of daylight savings time that could potentially impact their health. That said, it’s important to recognize how this time change could negatively impact the older population. Luckily, we’ll explore these potential effects below and provide some tips for seniors adjusting to daylight savings time.
Negative Effects of Daylight Savings Time on the Elderly
Most of the population adjusts quickly to daylight savings time. For seniors, it’s more complicated than just taking a few days to get back on track. Pushing the clocks forward can negatively affect a senior’s sleep patterns. In addition, it also increases their risk for heart attacks, even if they’re in a nursing home.
Reduced Efficiency of Sleep
Even a small change in sleep schedule can have a big effect on one’s sleeping efficiency and patterns, especially in the elderly. According to the Mother Nature Network, a 2006 study conducted in Finland concluded that the one hour time change decreased the participants’ sleep efficiency by 10 percent. Since it’s harder for seniors to adjust to changes in their sleep schedules, this time change could lead to increased grogginess and decreased mental performance. A sleep-deprived senior is more likely to make mistakes when it comes to daily tasks, like taking medications on time. Not only that, but sleepiness in the elderly may increase their risk for falls.
Increased Risk of Heart Attacks
Setting the clocks forward not only affects sleep schedules, it may also increase the short-term risk of a heart attack. Researchers studied data from patients in Michigan hospitals and found that after daylight savings time began, there were 25 percent more heart attacks. On the Monday immediately following the start of daylight savings time, the hospital saw eight additional heart attack patients, on average.
Tips for Avoiding Negative Effects of Daylight Savings Time
For the elderly, it’s important to adjust to the time change as soon as possible. Here are some tips for keeping the circadian rhythm on track following the start of daylight savings time.
- Have a routine, and stick to it. Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, even during a time change, helps to keep your internal sleeping rhythm consistent. Try to not vary your bedtime and wake-up time by more than 20 minutes. WebMD suggests starting a regular calming ritual before bed, like reading a book or taking a hot bath to prepare for sleep.
- Avoid sleep disrupters like caffeine and alcohol.
- Practice good “sleep hygiene.” It’s a good idea to make your environment as sleep-friendly as possible. Be sure that the environment is quiet and dark enough. In older folks especially, loud sounds can significantly disrupt a good night’s sleep. That said, investing in a pair of earplugs or a sleep mask may be a wise decision.
- Get some sunlight. Exposure to the sun helps to regulate your body’s natural rhythms and helps sleep come more easily. WebMD states that “light suppresses the secretion of the sleep-inducing substance melatonin.”
- Exercise during the late afternoon or early evening. Engaging in activities like walking, biking, or swimming may help you to fall asleep more easily once nighttime rolls around. However, activity too close to bedtime may make sleep more difficult, so exercise accordingly.
Now you’re up to speed on the negative effects of daylight savings time on seniors! By practicing these strategies to ensure healthy sleep habits, you’ll keep your circadian rhythm on track without a problem, despite the time change. If you have additional tips on how you or your loved ones adjust to daylight savings time, let us know in the comments below!