Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
While daylight saving time brings us extra sunshine in the warmer months, the lost hour of sleep in the spring can also take away precious time used for sleep and restoration. This shift is often disruptive, but a recent study shows that those who consider themselves night owls are more likely to be negatively affected by the “spring forward” of daylight saving—in some cases, the effects could last as long as a week.
In a study from researchers at the University of Michigan — and published this week in Scientific Reports— individuals who are genetically predisposed to prefer morning hours recovered from the hour they lost faster than those who stay up late. In order to determine this, researchers analyzed how individual differences on a genetic level affect a person’s ability to adjust to an abrupt shift—in this case, the shift was daylight saving.
The individuals in the study were asked to wear devices that monitored their sleep midpoint, which is the halfway point between sleep and wake cycles. This information determines a person’s chronotype—one of the clearest indicators of whether one is an early bird or night owl.
For the night owls in this study, they continued to exhibit altered sleep patterns well into the week after they moved their clocks forward by an hour. This is in sharp contrast to the early birds, who were able to return to a normal pattern as quickly as three days after the change.
While the study examines sleep patterns from the entire week, there was a significant difference for night owls between the work week and weekends. Assessment of sleep timing on free days (Friday and Saturday night) demonstrated that the evening population had not shifted to the daylight saving onset.
During the work week after daylight saving, the evening population showed a drastic delay in both sleep onset and offset relative to the week before. In other words, the workweek schedule masked the magnitude to which the sleep/wake cycles in the evening population are misaligned to the new time.
The study shows that genetic differences can affect our ability to adapt to an abrupt external time change—other examples of these shifts include jet lag or shift work. Additionally, chronic circadian misalignment has been shown to lead to several physical and mental health problems. Understanding your body’s natural sleep preferences may even shed light on other aspects of your personality.
While there is no way to recover the lost hour of sleep, preparing for daylight saving can help make it a little easier. This could be as simple as adjusting your clocks before going to bed, or being mindful of your sleep routine in the days leading up to the shift. Disruptions to sleep schedules should never be taken lightly, and being aware of the potential impact could prevent long-term effects.