As the seasons shift and the days grow imperceivably longer, we are at the familiar crossroads of time here in the U.S., specifically, Daylight Savings Time (DST). That biannual time of year when we adjust our clocks forward, all in the name of maximizing daylight hours.

Knowing that persons with ADHD commonly struggle with time awareness, this 100+ year practice had me curious about the history behind this possibly outdated tradition, why it continues to alarm such debate, and most importantly, the specific impact on people with ADHD and strategies might help them to make this time-transition easier.

A Brief History of  ‘Time-Shifting”

Since 1916, ‘time-shifting”, or when clock hands were first moved to allow for more daylight hours, DST has influenced and confused entire continents and complicated communications, travel, and business around the globe, raising questions of whether to continue to observe DST or not. For instance, while most of the United States observes DST, Hawaii and parts of Arizona have opted out. Globally, the European Union, Russia, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America have also been watching the clock, and often with little consensus, moving away from this century-old practice.

Beating the Clock…or Attempts to Alter Time

Those who continue advocating for an hour of daylight might hope that beating the clock will improve people’s health, safety, the economy, and social relationships. In theory, this may be possible. For example, more natural daylight in the evening might mean that households and businesses could decrease the use of artificial lighting and save on energy costs. For individuals and families, an extra hour of daylight could be used for exercise, recreational and social activities, improving physical and mental well-being. It makes sense that increased visibility during the evening commute could reduce traffic accidents and crime, as criminal activities are more likely to occur when dark. And finally, an extra hour of daylight would allow farmers to work longer in natural light, increasing their productivity and efficiency…because don’t we all want to work longer?  In 1916, the answer was…yes!

The Alarming Reality of “Time-Shifting”

Despite the anticipated benefits of DST, the realities sparked studies scrutinizing the impact of 100+ years of DST transitions, surfacing some significant disadvantages to this practice of borrowing time. These drawbacks include sleep deprivation, increased symptoms of depression and risk of a heart attack, reduced productivity, mental cognition, and memory, and an increase in workplace and traffic accidents following the DST transition – most of these are now thought to be due to the disruption and deprivation of sleep that occurs right after we ‘fall behind” or “spring ahead”. Sleep seems not to be considered in shifting times, and in all fairness was not really studied until the 1950s with the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and its importance for cognitive function and overall health.  Since then, our understanding of sleep physiology and the importance of adequate sleep has grown to explore the complex relationship between sleep, health, and performance, with ongoing efforts to identify strategies for improving sleep quality and promoting optimal well-being.

And what about the potential energy savings benefit of using less artificial light during DST? Well, it seems that the advancements in energy-efficient lighting technologies (such as LED bulbs) have significantly reduced the energy consumption and carbon emissions of artificial lighting, compared to the considerably higher amount of energy use and carbon emissions when operating heating and cooling devices continuously during daylight hours.

Socially, DST can create significant challenges for families with young children. An impact that ripples into educational and workplace settings. Time-shifting of as little as one hour disrupts routines, bedtimes, sleep patterns, circadian rhythms, and parental alone time, creating chaos and friction that rarely energizes socialization.

And the benefit to agriculture? Let’s be honest: crops and farm animals do not adjust their biological clocks to the whims of human time changes. I am just saying.

Navigating the Twilight Zone for People with ADHD

So, how does DST affect us mere ADHD mortals in our day-to-day lives? For many with ADHD, the transition into DST can be a mixed bag. Overall, the DST transition can pose unique challenges for individuals with ADHD. On the one hand, we might welcome the extended daylight hours and the promise of exciting and new outdoor daylight adventures. On the other hand, grappling with groggy mornings, possible reduction of cognitive function, mood, and overall sense of well-being, disrupted sleep, productivity, treatment schedules, and general time disorientation that accompany the transition only add to our already challenging race against the clock. It’s crucial for individuals with ADHD and those who love them to be aware of potential effects during these time transitions and to implement strategies to minimize disruption if needed.


Embracing the Light

Luckily, individuals with ADHD can apply various strategies to help minimize the negative impact of Daylight Savings Time and increase the likelihood of a smoother time transition. Following are some helpful tips:

1. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even after the transition to DST.

2. Gradually Change Your Sleep Schedule by adjusting bedtime and wake-up time by 15-30 minutes each night in the days before the DST transition.

3. Re-create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine sans the Screen Time and incorporate a new, calming bedtime routine to signal your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Ideas to make this bedtime routine new and different, thus more interesting for us with ADHD, include saving a particular book to read, adding Epsom salts to your warm bath, and pre-setting your iTunes to your favorite background white noise to help you unwind.

4. Ensure a Dark, Quiet Sleep Environment by investing in blackout curtains or eye masks to block out light, and consider using earplugs to mask any disruptive sounds.

5. Be Mindful of Medicine Timing: If you take ADHD medicine, consult with your healthcare provider. Track when your medicine is wearing off to ensure that your ADHD medication isn’t keeping you awake.

6. Allow for Space and flexibility, knowing it may take time for your body to adjust to the change.

Love or loathe it, DST remains a living relic in these modern times, perhaps a testament to our ongoing human quest to tame the ever-elusive sands of time. So, as we spring forward, adjust our clocks, and anticipate the inevitability of being one hour late for something the following week, there may be a silver lining. The opportunity to appreciate a precious commodity that shapes our days, nights, and everything in between…time. In the grand scheme of things, time waits for no one. However, with awareness, preparation, and a few changes, persons with ADHD can make the most of every moment.  – even during Daylight Savings Time.

What do you think? Let me know your favorite ways to “beat the clock” during Daylight Savings Time in the space below.

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