Do you need to make up for lost time?

Daylight savings time concept

Daylight Savings interrupts your sleep for several days

Imagine for a moment that you are the captain of a huge container ship. Due to bad luck and a following wind, you have managed to get your vessel stuck across a major shipping route. Hundreds of other ships have to stay put, with nowhere to go. How would you feel?

My guess is that the captain of the “Ever Given” super-transporter that has been blocking the Suez Canal had a few sleepless nights. The shipping company’s clients will no-doubt have been putting pressure on the firm to get the forlorn vessel re-floated. The local radio waves were probably awash with demands from all the other shipping in the area to “get a move on”. As the captain looks out from the bridge, all he can see is dry land in front of him, which is not what a master mariner really likes. At every turn, the captain has been under extreme pressure, day and night and almost certainly getting little sleep.

Like anyone in this situation, the captain’s brain will be undergoing several neurochemical twists and turns; yours would be too in a similar position. However, don’t go thinking he is alone. This week, your brain will be doing similar somersaults. That’s because, for the UK, we switched to “British Summer Time” overnight on Saturday, which meant that we “lost an hour”.

This has a significant impact on your brain – much more than you might realise. It reacts similarly to someone under stress with deprived sleep, just like the master of a stricken merchant ship. And lack of proper sleep affects your business (see the infographic below from Sleepare).

Much of the United States changed their clocks last week. Hawaii and Arizona do not practice “Daylight Savings Time”. But the rest of the United States, a week on from the change, will still be suffering the psychological effects of the switch.

It is worth reflecting that of the 7.5bn people globally, only 1.5bn are in areas that use “Daylight Savings”. It seems that the rest of the world has already caught on to the fact that switching the clocks is a real problem. Indeed, some studies show the substantial negative financial impact the switch has upon countries. Frankly, it makes no economic sense to alter the clocks. But, hey, it’s a “tradition”.

The real problem is not an economic one; it is psychological. The shift in the amount of light that we receive leads to sleep disruption. Typically, you will lose half an hour of sleep every night for the next week to ten days after the clocks go forward. For many people, it amounts to losing an entire night of sleep. This is on top of the drip-feed of sleep deprivation caused by the past year of sitting in front of computer screens all day, every day.

Sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in heart attacks, strokes, and accidents. All of these rise by as much as 19% in the days after the clocks go forward. There is a similar, though smaller, increase in incidents when British Summer Time is reversed in the Autumn. If Daylight Savings as a concept was abolished, millions of lives would be saved.

When you are deprived of sleep, your ability to make decisions is impaired. You already know that when you miss sleep and feel tired the next day, you are slower to think and suffer from bouts of “brain fog”. Neuroscience studies show that the impact of sleep deprivation is cumulative. You miss a bit of sleep tonight, and you will find decisions a little slower tomorrow. Then, skip a bit more sleep tomorrow, and it adds to the neurological impact. In other words, your brain doesn’t compensate for the deprived sleep if you continue to miss out on it.

You are inevitably going to miss sleep this week, even if you are not aware of it. Your brain will add up all those missing minutes, and your body – and business – will suffer. Indeed, your risk of death in the week after the clocks go forward is increased by 3%.

Many people will try to “be normal”, just dispensing that missing hour of sleep to history and getting on with things. But that’s not good for your brain.

If you want to make sound business decisions in the coming week, the best way to do that is to gradually transition the change. Only adapt your routines by 10 minutes instead of an hour. That way, over a week, your body will have more easily become accustomed to the alteration in the clock.

Of course, this means that there are going to be problems at work. You might not have the time to send out emails as you adjust your work time. But does it matter if that email doesn’t go out until tomorrow? Almost certainly not. Similarly, will it matter if you are late to a Zoom meeting or have to leave it early? Hardly. Slowly adapting your time clock needs an attitude change at work as well. That’s a positive double whammy for your brain.

These are similar questions that people caught up in the current Suez crisis could be asking. Does it really matter if all those goods arrive a couple of days late? In the grand scheme of things, do we really, really need to make up for the lost time? If all that matters is money, then maybe – only maybe. But if health and well-being is your yardstick, then that lost time is not relevant.

Oh, and one other thing that you might not like me saying. If you drink coffee or alcohol when the clocks are changing, that dramatically increases your problems. So put the coffee machine “on standby” and keep that beer in the fridge for a few days. Night-night.

Sleep infographic

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