Adapting to time changes—traveling across time zones, or Daylight Saving Time (DST)—can be challenging with bipolar. Here’s how to adjust to the change:
Ben Franklin first mentioned what we now call Daylight Saving Time in a 1784 essay, somewhat satirically proposing an idea to conserve candles in the early morning hours. While DST has been in place for the past century in the United States, it has long been the focus of debate. Most people are fine with gaining an extra hour in the fall; losing an hour in the spring, not so much.
Why do we have Daylight Saving Time?
One early argument in favor of DST was to conserve energy: the demand for electricity for lighting homes and powering appliances is directly related to the times when people go to bed at night and rise in the morning. There is potential benefit in northern climes where the amount of sunlight varies dramatically over the year, but little benefit in southern ones.
Everyone is affected by seasonal or time zone changes, some more than others. The spring time change—with its increased activation of light-sensitive brain circuits and a general acceleration of brain activity—is a major hurdle, particularly for those with mood issues.
With the roller-coaster ride that the coming of spring brings to someone with bipolar disorder, the weekend of the time change is the equivalent of that sharp turn in the track that sends the head spinning. Increases in heart attacks and disrupted sleep patterns immediately after the time change have been documented. Sleep disturbances interfere with attention, whether at home or at work (or traveling in-between), and the negative effects can last for several weeks.
Travel is a big deal for many. In addition to the logistics and excitement of the long-awaited trip—people with bipolar disorder often have more intense anticipatory emotions—there is the problem of dealing with changes in time zones. Sleep deprivation related to the travel itself (airports, connections, and delays) along with a shift in time zones can easily lead to mood destabilization.
What can we do to minimize time change disruptions?
For the spring time change, first and foremost: pay attention to when the time change occurs (March 10, 2019) and plan for it. Consider taking a personal day the Monday following the spring time change to “chill,” read, go for a walk, or just be good to yourself, avoiding stress and alcohol (or other substances) as much as possible. Talk to your health-care provider about options to manage sleep or other disruptions that may occur; for example, medication that can be used as needed, and self-care cognitive meditation strategies to facilitate relaxation and sleep.
For travel across time zones and jet lag: again, planning is the key. Allow extra time for the travel itself, and build in a day or two to recover. The greater the time zone change, the longer the recovery. Consult your health-care provider for an as-needed sleep aid. Experiment with available apps for mobile devices, such as Entrain.org, which monitors your body’s circadian clock using your smartphone, to help you adjust faster to new time zones and schedules.
Time changes can be challenging, but with preparation and planning, they don’t need to be debilitating. Now that we’ve had a few weeks of 2019 DST, how’s your spring going?
Printed as “Ask the Doctor: Time change challenges,” Spring 2019
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