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NWI sleep specialists warn that any disruption to circadian rhythms, even an extra hour, is harmful

Pam Keister, supervisor of the Franciscan Health Munster Sleep Disorders Center at the Hammond Clinic, fits Irma Chavez, of Burnham, Illinois, with a sleep-breathing mask. Keister counts the upcoming time change among events that can disturb natural sleep cycles.

Spring forward, fall back.

It's an annual ritual we’ve all experienced, searching for that extra hour of sleep or bemoaning the one that got away.

But the truth is that the time change coming up Nov. 5 can do much more than give you a chance at an extra hour of shuteye. It can cause an increase in traffic and industrial accidents, induce mental and physical fatigue, and leave you feeling out of sorts for a full week — all because it disrupts your circadian rhythm.

“Everyone has a 24-hour physiological cycle,” explained Patti Solano, manager of neuro sleep services for LaPorte and Starke Hospitals. “Your rhythm determines your sleeping and feeding patterns.”

According to WebMD, external cues such as temperature and sunlight affect everyone’s circadian rhythm. The time change alters sunrise and sunset time, which can disrupt an individual’s sleep rhythm.

“Your body tells you it’s time to go to sleep when it senses a certain amount of darkness,” said Pam Keister, supervisor of the Franciscan Health Sleep Center, with offices in Munster and Crown Point. “When we set the clocks back or forward, we change what time it gets dark, and your internal clock is disrupted.”

What’s the big deal? It’s only one hour, and in this case, it's an extra hour to sleep.

“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a lack of sleep results in more traffic and industrial accidents,” Solano said. “The time change throws off your internal clock, and your body is temporarily out of whack, whether you realize it or not.”

Other hazards related to "falling back" include the change in driving conditions in the late afternoon rush hour. Instead of driving home in daylight, commuters are driving home in darkness. People may not have adjusted to nighttime driving and might be at a somewhat higher risk for a crash.

“Some of us are impacted more than others,” Keister said. “We pay attention to what time the clock says instead of what time our body says. Work and school obligations dictate those circumstances. But it is still disruptive.”

Keister and Solano agree that it can take up to one full week for your body to adapt that one-hour change.

“The level of personal impact is affected by your current sleep patterns,” Keister said. “If you’re already running on fumes, the time change can definitely aggravate the situation.”

Shift workers can be more at risk than those on a regular routine, Solano said. “People who rotate their work shifts are already disrupted. The time change contributes another negative factor, and that can result in more on-the-job accidents.”

A recent study by the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults and young adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. However, a study by the CDC showed that 35 percent of adults do not get that amount.

What’s the best way to minimize the effect?

“My first recommendation is to try and get the proper amount of sleep every night,” Keister said. “It’s a challenge for all of us, due to demands from family, friends, and work. But skipping sleep to squeeze more production into the day can create serious problems.”

“If people work a steady schedule, I recommend they establish a specific bedtime,” Solano said. “Listen to your body, and you’ll know when it’s time for sleep.”

Light is one of the external cues that affect circadian rhythm. When it's bedtime, a dark room better facilitates sleep. So minimize light, including that from a cell phone or other electronic device.

To help your body with the fall time change, Solano and Keister suggest that you ease into it starting a week before Nov. 5.

“Try to go to bed 10-15 minutes earlier every night for several nights,” Keister said. “Your body can adapt to small increments easier.”

“You can fall back 15-20 minutes every night for three or four nights,” Solano said. “That will help your body adjust slowly.”

Gradual changes can create a better sleep rhythm, which will help minimize the disruption of falling back.