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Relax, Kansas City — Experts Say It's Not That Hard For Humans To Adapt To A Time Change

Wikimedia Commons
"After Lunch-Gualala," 1885

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, the clocks on our digital devices will all move back one hour. Barring emergencies or interruptions from small children, everyone will get an extra hour of sleep.

And even though they’ve gotten more sleep, some people will still worry about the time change, particularly those who are already sleep-challenged. Some will even complain about the general disruption of Daylight Savings Time beginning (as it did last Spring) and ending (as it does this weekend).

“Often their worry and overreaction to the time change creates greater problems than the actual physiology of the time change,” said Jason Graff, the medical director for sleep disorders at St. Luke’s Health System.

“(The time change) is not a big deal if you allow yourself enough time to sleep. You have to make sleep a priority,” Graff told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

Credit St. Luke's Healthcare System
Jason Graff is the medical director of sleep for the St. Luke's Healthcare System.

That’s not to say that tinkering with time doesn’t disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms. Graff said many external things, such as late-evening cell phone use, an upsetting email, or shift work can cause loss of sleep.

“You have to plan ahead for it,” Graff said. “Get rid of the things that would make it worse and be consistent with that, and your own circadian rhythm will take care of the rest.”

A human’s internal clock is not completely in agreement with the 24-hour clock we use to measure time, explained Jeffrey Price, a biologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Through his research with fruit flies, he’s learned that day-time and night-time behaviors continue in organisms even under constant conditions.

“(Behaviors) are not driven by some sort of cryptic cue associated with the earth’s rotation. Instead, they come from within the organism,” Price said.

“That means there has to be a daily input from the light cycles, or even temperature cycles in fruit flies, to readjust it to 24 hours.”

Graff said there’s an uptick of patient visits in the Spring when people face an hour of lost sleep due to the time change. When people are sleep-deprived, even by an hour, more traffic and work-related accidents occur, and hospitals see an increase in heart attacks and miscarriages.

While the November 4 change allows for an extra hour of sleep on the night of the time change, the following night may be more challenging; someone who regularly falls asleep at 10 p.m. will feel tired at 9 p.m. To keep their regular schedule, that person will need to stay awake an extra hour.

The good news is that any sleep disruption from readjusting the clocks won’t last.

Price called it a “temporary misalignment of your internal clock with the new cycle you’re forced to adapt to.”

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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