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UW sleep doctor wants us to fall back, and stay there

caption: Fall arrives in spectacular fashion at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. This photo was taken in 2022, setting a high bar for fall 2023.
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Fall arrives in spectacular fashion at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. This photo was taken in 2022, setting a high bar for fall 2023.
Juan Pablo Chiquiza / KUOW

It's almost time to artificially move an hour of sunlight from the afternoon to the morning. This Sunday, we'll fall back an hour and return to standard time.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson co-directs UW Medicine's Sleep Center. He told KUOW’s Kim Malcolm we should stay in standard time permanently. He says daylight saving time doses the entire population with an hour of permanent jetlag. He links it to an increase in heart attacks, strokes, and mood disorders.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Dr. Watson: When we set our clocks back this weekend, essentially, it's as if we are all returning from an unnatural state of being, which is our lives on daylight saving time. This whole issue is about three clocks. We have the body clock or circadian rhythms, we have the sun clock, and we have the social clock. Daylight saving time is when we take the social clock and we have it interfere with the relationship between our body clock and the sun clock. And that alignment of our body clock and the sun clock, which has been there for millennia, is crucial to our optimal health and well-being. So, I'm excited. We're gonna fall back this weekend, and we don't want to change our clocks anymore, so let's just stay put. Let's don't touch them again.

Kim Malcolm: You say it feels like permanent jetlag, but don't we adjust? I usually feel better within a week or two.

We can adjust. It can take five days or so to make the full adjustment. As a sleep medicine community, we need to do more research to better understand the long-term implications of going on permanent daylight saving time, which some people have advocated for.

I have lots of issues with that. But maybe the number one issue with that, for those of us who live in the Seattle area, is that the sun would come up in the wintertime after 9 a.m. So, if you're waking up at 6 to get ready to go to work, you're essentially waking up in the middle of the night. Your body is going to feel like you're in the middle of the night.

We are designed as human beings to sleep when it's dark out and be awake when it's light out, and this is just antithetical to our biology. The sunrise after 9 a.m., people are not going to like that in January. That's going to be a problem for people. Going to permanent daylight saving time is not the way to go. We should just stay on permanent standard time.

There are people who don't mess around with changing the clocks, Arizona for instance, but they're much further south. We are north, we have less light, doesn't make sense somehow for us here in the Pacific Northwest?

Well, it's important to note, obviously, we're not adding any daylight to the 24-hour day, so we just have to put that out there. It's really a matter of when the daylight occurs. I suppose we could all clamor for more daylight in general. Maybe we should move away from Seattle. But we live here because we love it for a variety of reasons. So, we're left with the amount of daylight in a 24-hour day in January, that's not going to change.

I just think that when you consider the health implications long term of daylight saving time, and if we went to permanent daylight saving time, the wintertime would just be so problematic that we wouldn't stay on it. I mean, we've done this before. In 1974, President Nixon put us on permanent daylight saving time, but people didn't like it so much we switched back.

So, we'll make this time switch on Sunday. For some of us, it's quite disruptive to our sleep. Do you have any tips for us?

One thing would be to go to bed a little bit later the next couple of nights, maybe 15 to 30 minutes later. And then also sleep a little later in the morning the next couple of mornings in order to help you adjust. But once we go to permanent standard time, the things that really solidify and train our circadian rhythms, the most important thing by far is exposure to light, and typically exposure to light in the morning hours. So, going for a walk outside, just finding some way to get that light exposure can be really helpful.

And then, keeping consistent bedtimes and wake times and consistency in all aspects of your life. When you eat meals and exercise, things like that are really things that help train a human circadian rhythm to a 24-hour day.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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