The Dangers of Daylight Savings Time
This is something worth revisiting every year as we move our clocks forward one hour, beginning seven months of Daylight Saving Time (DST). While many of us welcome the extra hour of sunlight in the evening, it is important to know that even a small time change can negatively affect the health and well-being of the elderly, particularly those with dementia or a chronic illness.
Studies have shown that the daylight saving time shift we experience in the spring can impact a person’s well-being in several ways, including sleep struggles. For older adults, especially those with chronic illness or dementia, the transition can be particularly difficult. Sleeping and waking habits all influence our incredibly complex brains. Arising at 7:00 a.m. during standard time is really akin to rising at 6:00 during DST. Because the evenings are light longer, this does not necessarily translate to going to bed an hour earlier. In fact, it may result in going to bed later, since a human’s normal rhythm is to rise and go to bed with the sun. Alzheimer’s disease, and many other dementias, attacks the cerebral cortex so it should be no surprise that changes in daylight would influence the functionality of an already compromised mind, also affecting body and behavior.
According to experts, sleep fragmentation is typical among older adults, particularly those with chronic illness, such as dementia. In this population, even small changes in one’s sleep patterns can have significant health consequences, and cause an increase in disorientation and erratic behavior.
If you are caring for someone with dementia, you may also be dealing with Sundowner’s Syndrome, the onset of confusion and agitation that generally affects people with dementia and usually strikes around sunset. Common Sundowning triggers include fatigue and internal imbalances. Sound like something we experience with the change in time during this time of year?
Here are a few suggestions that may help those most affected by the change to DST:
- Maintain a Routine. Maintain regular sleeping patterns as much as possible, adjusting waking and bed times by no more than 15-20 minutes. This may also mean adjusting regularly scheduled appointments for a week or so, until your loved one is gently acclimated to DST.
- Exercise. If your loved one is able to take a walk of any length at all, this can help them fall asleep more easily, lessening the negative impact of having longer evenings.
- Take a Bath. A warm bath before bed can help the body relax and produce melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.
If you are like me, and not one of the folks who are excited about DST, hang in there! We will be back to normal time in seven months and get our hour of sleep returned!
Cheri Elson, J.D.
Gray Matters Consulting
For more information:
Daylight Affects Sundowners
Drawbacks of Daylight Savings for Seniors and Those with Serious Illness