Did you forget? – The clocks went forward one hour Sunday

This month we’ve seen lots of attention put on sleep, from it being celebrated as ‘National Bed Month’ to many countries celebrating a special World Sleep Day on Friday 17th March, with this year’s official slogan being “Sleep soundly, nurture life.” Now we’re going to change the clocks.

Funny couple in bed

Spring will officially be here. The nights will become lighter, the temperatures will start getting (slightly) warmer, and during this Sunday night, 26 March 2017 we will see the UK move to British Summer Time: at 1am to be precise.

Daylight saving time (DST) or summer time is the practice of advancing clocks during summer months by one hour so that in the evening daylight is experienced for an hour longer, and normal sunrise times are sacrificed. Regions with summer time adjust clocks forward by one hour close to the start of spring and adjust them backward in the autumn to standard time.

‘Spring forward, fall back’ is usually the only way that anyone can ever remember if the clocks go forward or backward. Except it’s ‘Autumn’ for us in the UK, not ‘Fall’, obviously.

So the clocks are about to go forward, which is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It is obviously a good thing and something we’ve all looked forward to, but it also means that we lose an hour in bed, which is definitely a very bad thing. You might only be missing an hour of sleep, but it can have a negative effect on your body clock, and it can take up to a week to re-adjust and get back into your normal routine.

Sleep deprivation often hits the headlines and we are frequently told we need 8 hours a night. But how much sleep do we really need? Are we sleeping less than we used to and is today’s society really sleep deprived?

A recent meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine aimed to answer these questions. They reminded us that while we have every reason to think our sleep has never been better, we seem to have increasing complaints of fatigue and insomnia, and heavily disturbed sleep for many reasons, but particular sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep anoea, or the noise of our bedfellows snoring loudly.

Many of us have disturbed nights that leave us tired and irritable the next day. The rest of us may be sleeping for the recommended 8 hours – but is it quality sleep? It is increasingly being realised that poor sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity, has negative consequences for physical, mental and performance risk.

Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are dangerous, costly, and impact our health and overall well-being. New research puts forth sleep as a major public health concern, and shows that the effects of a good night’s sleep are as beneficial for our happiness and well-being as winning the lottery might be.

In the USA insufficient sleep has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a major public health concern. It is currently estimated that between 50 and 70 million people in the United States have a sleep disorder, and one analysis revealed that over a third of adults do not get enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to traffic accidents and occupational errors that can, in turn, cause industrial or environmental disasters and has many adverse health effects. According to the CDC, not getting enough sleep may lead to a range of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, or cancer, as well as generally increasing the risk of dying prematurely. A lack of sleep simply makes us unhappy and may even lead to depression.

Australia recognises the same problem and describes it as an epidemic. Research by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation has found between 33 and 45 per cent of Aussies have poor sleep patterns that lead to fatigue and irritability, and it’s putting them at risk of low productivity, damage to their mental health and unsafe behavioural patterns. The Official Sleep Day Ambassador has been offering tips to support sleep and help sustain health and wellbeing in the country, where they state that over 30% of adults now average less than 6 hours of sleep per day.

The message is the same everywhere – if you’re not sleeping well do something about it before really serious damage is done.

John Redfern.