Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Does time change affect our health or sleep?

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Does switching between daylight saving time and standard time, as we did this weekend, affect my health or my sleep? I have medications I am supposed to take at 8 a.m. every day. If I take them an hour later or earlier, does this matter?


Very timely question. Considering that most countries do not observe daylight saving time, we should examine our own practices here in America. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, for example, have never had daylight saving time; and most of Asia, including India and China, have now dismissed it.


Regarding sleep cycles, I would liken daylight saving time to traveling across time zones. The longer the flight, and the more time zones traveled through, the more your sleep cycle or "circadian rhythm" is tested. This is called "jet lag." So, if you don't have trouble with short east-west flights in the U.S., then losing an hour should not affect your sleep cycle.


As for medications, there are very few medications taken by mouth that will be affected by a one-hour lapse. If you are on scheduled pain medications, you may notice more pain since you have waited an extra hour, but this shouldn't otherwise affect your health. In hospitals for example, nearly every patient will have a medication scheduled at 8 a.m., but there are only so many healthcare personnel available to distribute these pills. So, patients often will get their medications a few hours earlier or later. This variation is accepted within our health community.


As for how this affects healthcare, let me pose an interesting scenario. As a physician who delivers babies, I've always pondered the "who's born first" idea during the time change. For example, a woman is delivering twins. She happens to deliver her first baby at 1:59 a.m. Sunday. Then the clocks "fall back" and it's suddenly 1:00 a.m. again. Her second child is delivered at 1:08 a.m. Technically the first child is older, but based on the clocks, the second child will appear "older."


Luckily I happened to be on call this past weekend during the time change and was excited to test the theory. Unfortunately, I didn't get called in for a delivery. This year, neither Meriter nor St. Mary's had a birth during the time change. However, I called both hospitals to ask how this would be recorded. The answer: they would write the exact time (with observance of the time change) in their registry. So, the above "twin scenario" could indeed occur.


In the example above, the health of the children is unaffected, but it shows how the healthcare system deals with the extra hour. Many shift-workers also deal with this, and it affects the farming community by allowing sunlight to be present earlier in the morning. So as a country, it affects our crops, our commerce and our productivity.


As a final note, if you do notice continual problems with your sleep (not just during daylight-saving time), consider seeking care. You may have sleep apnea, anxiety, or a side effect from a medication. UW-Madison has a Center for Sleep Medicine, and Wisconsin Sleep is a comprehensive center with a sleep lab to test your breathing and behavior while you sleep.


Now go use that hour we gained, or better yet, catch some z's!


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.


Date Published: 11/08/2011

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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