Spring is on the way – though it’s not quite the spring we were all expecting, sadly. The daffodils are out, though, to give us some cheer, the shops are brimming with Easter eggs, if not loo rolls, and the clocks are about to go forward..
But we all groan at the prospect of an hour’s less sleep. And then the mornings, which were getting a bit lighter, are suddenly darker again. We now have to accept that it’s 7am when it’s still 6am in our heads….and for key workers, at least, that can mean dragging ourselves out of bed and heading off to work in the dark.
But aside from making us a bit grumpy, a recent study from the US has shown that the week following the ‘spring forward’ clock change is associated with a 6% increase in fatal traffic accidents. They analysed over 700,000 fatal motor vehicle accidents over a 20 year period to see a consistent increase in the week after daylight saving changes.
Why would this be?
It’s probably a combination of morning grogginess as we force our body clock into a slightly new rhythm, coupled with driving to work in the dark again. But interestingly, whilst the risk increased mainly in the morning, it was also elevated in the afternoon, despite longer daylight hours, suggesting it was the change in our normal circadian rhythm that was the main culprit.
Sleep is vital
Forcing ourselves to wake up with an alarm, rather than naturally, means we are depriving our body of much-needed sleep. Sleep is more than just a ‘switch-off’ – it is a carefully orchestrated programme of brain activity that helps us process memory, emotions and creative thought. The value of sleep is hugely under-estimated – most of us really do need 7-8 hours, whether we think we do or not. Insufficient sleep can lead to mood changes, weight gain, risk of health problems like heart disease and diabetes…and increased risk of accidents on the road.
So, when the clocks go forward this spring, be prepared. Plan your week to ensure you can get to bed an hour earlier than usual so you are ready to wake up, rather than be jolted out of deep sleep by your alarm. Try to avoid alcohol, sleeping tablets and sedating cold-remedies or other drugs – the additive effect may make morning drowsiness even worse. A coffee can help perk you up before you head off, so leave yourself enough time for that, without having to rush once you get behind the wheel. Of course, if you don’t have to drive, you shouldn’t – current advice is to stay at home wherever possible. But if it is unavoidable, then take extra care. Not only will it protect you, but motor vehicle accidents will put extra pressure on our poor NHS – pressure it can well do without at this difficult time.
Ref – A Chronobiological Evaluation of the Acute Effects of Daylight Saving Time on Traffic Accident Risk. Josef Fritz, Trang VoPham, Kenneth P. Wright Jr., Céline Vetter. Current Biology January 2020