Change your clocks this Sunday! NJ neurology expert says some people have hard time
For the most part, turning the clock back one hour, as we will do this Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 a.m., won’t have a serious effect on a person’s circadian rhythm or biological clock.
But for others such as the elderly, night shift workers, or travelers flying across time zones, it could take some time to adjust, said Sue Xue Ming, a neurology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Most people have a circadian rhythm that coincides with a 24-hour day. They adjust their CR with their schedule needs. So when there is a time change in the fall and spring, most people need a little adjustment, she said.
But others do, such as shift workers. Those can be nurses, truck drivers, or anyone working a night shift. Ming said if they consistently work that shift, that adjusting to the time change should not be a big deal. But if the shift is constantly changing or it’s a shift that is not worked on a consistent basis, and then there’s a time change, that’s where the problem may lie.
“These people have much difficulty adjusting because they have to adjust their circadian rhythm more dramatically than just a spring forward or fall back one hour,” Ming said.
When people work the night shift and they drive home in the dark, then they may fall asleep while driving, making the time change even more difficult for them, she said.
Research on travelers who fly across time zones indicates that it generally takes a day to fully adjust for each hour change.
“If you fly from New Jersey to California, that’s a three-hour difference so it takes three days to adjust,” Ming added.
But for the majority of people who have a regular circadian rhythm, she said it will take about one or two days max to adjust to the time changes.
Falling back is easier to adjust than springing forward because of that extra hour of sleep, she said. Children and younger adults typically enjoy sleeping in but it does get a little harder for many as they get older and struggle to stay awake beyond their normal bedtimes.
Ming said people can ease this adjustment by exposing themselves to bright light in the evening. Clinicians use lights with up to 2,500 lux, but normal household lights will suffice.
She did say that fluorescent lighting is better than incandescent lighting.
Ming also suggested taking a very warm shower or a bath at night to create evening wakefulness, if that’s what a person desires.
When it’s spring forward, she suggests wearing sunglasses at night so light exposure is reduced, and melatonin can naturally secrete in the body to help a person fall asleep sooner.
“I think the one-hour change one way or another should not cause a great impact on health. If the time constant is more advantageous for the green earth or for economics, I think most of us could overcome this slight inconvenience,” Ming said.