Spring forward, fall back . . .
This weekend marks the end of British Summertime: the days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in. Unbelievably, winter really is just around the corner.
Every year, the clocks ‘spring’ forward by an hour in March and ‘fall’ back by an hour in October as BST starts and finishes. Evenings begin to get darker and the mornings much brighter.
As Winston Churchill once said: “We borrow an hour one night in [the spring]; we pay it back with golden interest five months later."
Altering the clocks allows for longer daylight hours in the summer and an extra hour in bed when autumn arrives. That’s the good news. The less good news is that our bodies don’t always adjust well to the time shift, and the extra hour in bed doesn’t always mean extra sleep - especially for parents as most children will initially wake up at their usual time.
So why are we affected? Our resident sleep expert, Cristabel Majandie, explains that switching between BST and GMT leaves our biological clocks temporarily out of sync with the local day-night cycle - and it can take days to acclimatise.
She says: “Moving the clocks back can have an impact on the quality of your sleep, leaving some people feeling tired during the day.
“The impact of the clock change varies from person to person with some taking up to three days for the brain and body to adjust and others feeling unaffected.”
Other findings point to an increase in crime in the week following the autumn clock change. One study reported a 57% rise in burglaries compared to the weekly average throughout the rest of the year.
It’s not all bad news, however. Research points to a direct correlation between getting more sleep and a dramatic (21%) fall in the rate of heart attacks on the Monday following the autumn clock change.
Cristabel explains: “This is thought to be due to the benefit of increased sleep duration.
“The reverse pattern is seen in the spring with an increase of 25% in the rate of heart attacks on the Monday after the clocks move forward an hour.
“Lack of sleep can lead to a release of stress hormones that increase inflammation, and this may impact on individuals already at risk of having a heart attack. This indicates the potential importance of sleep to our physical health.”
The Sleep Council, which campaigns for sleep education, has come up with a series of top tips to prevent you losing sleep when the clocks change:
1. Remember to switch the alarm off before you go to sleep at night.
2. Unplug any ‘phones in the room and ensure that radios and televisions aren’t set to come on at any time in the morning.
3. Make sure you close the curtains – preferably good heavy ones that will block out the daylight which could disturb your slumber.
4. Make sure you’re sleeping on a good bed. An old one with creaky springs and a chronic roll-together mattress is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, let alone a lie-in.
5. Remember, the bigger your bed, the less the chance your sleep will be disturbed by your partner.
6. If you have young children, make sure you and your partner take turns to enjoy a lie-in.
Finally, don’t forget to turn your clocks back an hour before you go to bed on Sunday. Most smartphones and tablets will update automatically.