Chronobiology: why does the time change often cause problems?

Status: 03/26/2023 04:02 a.m

Some hardly notice it, others are programmed to feel tired and exhausted when the clocks change. Why is this causing problems for many people and what can we do about it?

By Anja Braun and Lisa Schmierer, SWR

This Sunday the clocks have been changed from winter to summer time. According to a current survey commissioned by the health insurance company DAK, a quarter of Germans have had health problems since the time change. For almost half of them, these problems last up to a week. According to the survey, those affected complained most frequently about tiredness and exhaustion, followed by sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating.

A study by the DAK found that in the first three days after the time change, a quarter more people ended up in hospital with a heart attack than the annual average. And the Auto Club Europa proved with statistical data that there are significantly more traffic accidents after the time change. One of the reasons for this is the lack of sleep and the resulting poor concentration.

Reduced efficiency

Children are particularly affected by the clock change. You have trouble concentrating. Studies show that just one hour less sleep reduces school performance by 30 to 40 percent. Sleep research therefore explains: The change throws the human inner clock out of sync.

The result: we can hardly open our eyes in the morning and drag ourselves through the day tired and listless. However, many are fit again after a day or two and have internalized the new time. But there are also many people who still suffer from a kind of mini-jet lag days after the changeover. They just need more time to adjust.

Our internal clock is not easy to change

Everyone has a sleep-wake cycle. This is colloquially referred to as the “internal clock”. This means: Our body automatically gets tired or awake and active again at certain times. However, this rhythm cannot be changed at the push of a button, but takes time to adapt to the shift. This takes longer for some people than for others. The result: even days after the changeover, you are still flabby or have difficulty sleeping in the evening.

Spring or Autumn: Which Change is Worse?

Of course there can be individual exceptions. In principle, however, the changeover in spring is more difficult for us. After all, we don’t get an hour’s sleep for free, but the clock change robs us of an hour of valuable relaxation.

In addition, some people get up before the spring time change, when it is already light or the sun is just beginning to rise. Our bodies find it easier to wake up when there is daylight. After the clock change, it is suddenly dark again. That makes it even more difficult.

Clock change tips

If you have big problems with this, you can start changing the clock “earlier” and divide the 60 minutes into smaller units. When the clocks are put forward, as it is now in the spring, it can help (perhaps next time) to start twelve days before the actual clock change, to get up five minutes earlier each day and go to bed a little earlier accordingly. Our body does not notice these five minutes a day and the biorhythm is adapted to the hour time difference to match the clock change.

A balanced diet and sufficient exercise can also help the body to cope better with the change. In general, you should be careful not to overtax your body and give it enough time to get used to the new times. This is the only way to benefit from the advantages of summer in the long term – and look forward to longer days and warmer temperatures.

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