Many of us, at this time of year, set reminders for ourselves to put our clocks back an hour. But how many of us understand the health risks associated with meddling with time?
It is the period between March and October when the clocks are one hour ahead, often called British Summer Time. It’s basically society’s way of getting the most from the natural sunlight available to us throughout our day. So, to ‘catch up’, if you like, with the longer and shorter days across our varied seasons, we put the clock forward an hour in spring and then back an hour in autumn, back to Greenwich Mean Time.
Turning the hand of a clock back an hour may seem like a small action with only a practical or functional impact, but this is not wholly the case. It has been evidenced that the one-hour alteration can play havoc on our natural body clock. This is where understanding our circadian rhythm is essential for looking after our health and wellbeing. But what do we mean by this?
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, “Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm.”
So, because our natural adjustment to the changes in daylight is artificially disrupted by a change in time, our circadian rhythm is somewhat jolted, and this can cause risks to our health in different ways. For example, a disruption to our sleeping pattern can have negative effects on our reaction times, alertness and ability to make prompt decisions. In turn, these effects can lead to incidents of injury and even fatal accidents such as traffic collisions.
A study by the University of Alabama, Birmingham conducted in 2012 found a rise in those suffering cardiac events in the days following the switch to DST. For those with underlying or chronic health conditions, such as heart disease for example, changes to the circadian rhythm can be a shock to the immune system, and along with even small changes in sleeping patterns, can mean higher risk of experiencing a heart attack and stroke.
Changes in our exposure to natural light may also impact on our mental health. Medical professionals have noticed a pattern linked to increased diagnosis of depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) following DST. During the darker mornings and nights, people see less natural sunlight; going to work when it’s still dark and returning home after the sun has already set. These day-to-day patterns mean less exposure to vitamin D and can therefore lead to a decrease in serotonin – a hormone associated with boosting mood, promoting calm and focus.
Prepare in advance: Set your alarm to wake up a little earlier than usual on the Friday and Saturday before the switch to British Summer Time. In October, on the switch to GMT, go to bed slightly later and get up slightly later, say by 20 minutes or so, for a couple of days before the switch. This makes it a bit easier to get out of bed on Monday morning.
Top up: Your exposure to vitamin D will likely see a notable decrease in the winter months of GMT. Advice from the NHS is “Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we’re outdoors. In the UK, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation in winter (October to March) for our skin to be able to make vitamin D.” So, to help both your bones and your mood in winter months, make sure you supplement with vitamin D, and choose foods that are rich in this vitamin, such as oily fish, eggs and mushrooms, or foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as various cereals, dairy products and juices.
Try more Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps serotonin to do its job, and it can be found in foods such as chocolate, oats, dairy products, chickpeas, nuts, seeds and fish.
Look after yourself: It can be easy to indulge in comfort foods at this time of year, not to mention the late nights from Halloween parties, firework displays, and so on. But take the time you need to get some real R&R. Meditate, exercise, eat well and, essentially, get a good night’s sleep.
Talk: If you’re feeling the effects of dark nights and the winter months, feeling depressed or overwhelmed by tiredness and you feel you would benefit from some support, don’t be afraid to open up or ask for help. Speak to your doctor or a mental health professional who can help you better manage your mood.
Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme focusses on working together to prevent suicide, with the aim of improving awareness of the significance of suicide, improving the knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide, reducing the stigma associated with suicide and most importantly, what can be done to let people who are struggling know that they are NOT alone.
Globally, around 800,000 people die from suicide each year1. Which means, every 40 seconds someone loses their life to suicide…..
In the UK, deaths by suicide rose by 11.8% in 2018. Statistics show men are three times more likely to die by suicide than woman, in fact, the highest suicide rate is among men ages 45-49. Suicide is the second cause of death for young people between ages 15-29 globally, similarly, the rate of deaths among under 25-year old’s has increased by 23.7% in the UK, which equivalates to 730 deaths in 20182.
These statistics show prevention is needed now more than ever. We can all help by simply checking in on our friends and family. Is there a friend you haven’t seen for a while or someone who has had noticeable changes in behavior? Is this person normally the life and sole of the party? If so, make them feel cared about, ask them for a coffee and a catch up. You never know, this could make a huge difference in how someone is feeling.
Although suicide can be a difficult topic to discuss, it is important we become more aware of the possible warning signs. To help improve the knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide, we have provided a few possible warning signs to look out for3:
•Excessive sadness or moodiness
•Changes in personality / appearance
•Dangerous or self-harm behavior
•Making Preparations / threatening suicide
Although looking out for your friends and loved ones is important, ensuring you are looking after yourself is also crucial. Living with a mental illness yourself can be difficult. Here are some everyday wellbeing and self-care tips to help with general day-to-day life:
•Get at least 7 hours sleep
•Make time for yourself, take up a new hobby or even just spend the day watching Netflix!
•Talk to someone you trust
IF YOU FEEL YOU NEED URGENT HELP OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES CALL 999 OR GO TO YOUR NEAREST A&E DEPARTMENT
WHAT TO DO IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW REQUIRES HELP
Help is always available 24/7:
• Contact the Samaritans on 116 123
• Contact NHS 111
• Speak to someone you trust, this could be a friend, family member or work colleague.
• Make an urgent appointment to see your GP
Men are considerably less likely to seek help, so let’s take action to support the men in our lives and check in with them to see how they are doing. And remember if you sense something is not quite right, don’t take their first ‘ok’ as an answer, ask again and see if there is something more needed.
How we think and feel about our bodies can have a massive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Anybody can be affected by body image issues at any age.
Today is World Sleep Day and I thought this would be a great opportunity to look at sleep and shift work, and the implications of one on the other.
Shift work is general described as working outside of normal hours, in particular, working during times when we would normally be expected to be asleep.
Firstly, shift work can result in you sleeping against your body’s natural clock. Everyone has an in-built biological rhythm which keeps you alert during daylight hours. Sleeping during the day makes it harder to drift off and get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Secondly, shift work often involves irregular schedules. Regular wake-up times produce hormones which act as signals for the body to sleep or stay awake. The more often you switch your schedule, the harder it is for your body to adjust.
Lastly, shift work means that you may be sleeping out of sync with everyone else. Staying asleep with the noises of daytime hustle and bustle around you can seem impossible. Family and personal relationships may also mean that sleep is not a priority.
Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you are still awake after 20 minutes, get up and do something calming, such as read a book, draw or write in a journal.
Avoid blue light. The short-wave blue light from computers, TV and phone screen supresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. It is important to avoid screen time for two hours before bed.
Try and set a schedule. Establishing a regular sleep schedule every day of the week can help to set your ‘biological clock’. Don’t lie in more than an hour, even on days off.
It is important that you use your bed only for sleep (and sex). If your body learns to associate your bed with sleep, you’ll start to feel tired as soon as you lie down. Using your phone, watching TV or sending emails in bed can have the opposite effect.
Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which can affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep, even if they’re used earlier in the day. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours, and even decaf coffee contain some caffeine.
Participating in exercising and health eating can lead to better sleep. Avoid strenuous exercise and greasy or heavy food for two hours before going to bed.
On average night shift workers sleep for 2 hours less than the average adult. This sleep debt puts shift workers at more risks of accidents and increases long term health risks, such as increasing the risk of strokes, diabetes and dementia, as well as stress and depression.
There are several things which can be done to limit the impact of working nights on your sleep.
Before night shift:
Staying alert during work:
After night shift:
Regardless of when your shift is, either day or night, remember that sleep can be flexible, and it is important to find a pattern that suits you.