Tips for adjusting to daylight saving time

By Delia Treaster, Ph.D., CPE, Ergonomic Technical Advisor, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. this Sunday, meaning it’s once again time to “spring forward” and set the clocks ahead one hour.

The time change, which costs you an hour of sleep, can impact your circadian rhythm, cause you to be sleepier on your Monday morning commute, and thus, affect road safety. It’s important to be aware of the risks associated with the time change and to prepare accordingly.

Drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep nearly double their risk of a crash. Drowsiness can slow reaction time, impair vision and judgment and delay the processing of information. It’s critical to take steps to prepare for the time change and be extremely cautious on the road in the days following the transition as you, and other drivers, reset your circadian rhythm.

To help prevent drowsy driving and stay safe on the road following the time change, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation offers the following tips:

  • Start going to bed and waking up earlier than normal in the days prior to daylight saving time. This can help reset your circadian rhythm and cue your body to sleep earlier on Sunday; thus, helping to minimize sleep loss from the time change.
  • Eat dinner earlier on Saturday. Our eating times are linked to our circadian rhythm, so try eating dinner an hour earlier on Saturday to help prime you for an earlier bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol on Saturday. Stimulants like caffeine and alcohol interfere with our circadian rhythm and may increase the number of times you wake up at night and decrease the quality of sleep you get, so it’s best to avoid them before the time change.
  • Use light to help reset your circadian rhythm after the time change. Light is one of the main cues of time and strongly affects the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Expose yourself to bright lights when you wake up and during the day, especially in the late afternoon. Conversely, avoid bright lights at night. Dim bedroom lights, turn off the TV and put electronic devices away about an hour before you plan to go to bed.
  • Prepare for a darker morning commute after the time change. Remember to turn on your car headlights in the morning following daylight saving time to make yourself more visible on the road. Also, slow down and increase your following distance to compensate for the limited visibility and reduced stopping time that may result from the darker commute.
  • Avoid distractions while driving. Drink your coffee at home or at work, don’t take breakfast to go and save all of your calls for later (even if you have a hands-free device). Distracted driving limits your attention to the road and can put you at greater risk for an accident, especially if you’re also driving on less hours of sleep than you normally would.

If you are driving in the days following the time change and begin to notice yourself losing focus, yawning, drifting out of your lane or notice your eyelids becoming heavy, you may be too tired to drive and should find a safe place to pull over and rest until you are able to drive safely.

For more driving-related safety tips, as well as advice on preventing slips, trips, falls and overexertions this spring, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

Driving while drowsy a challenge for truckers

BWC ergonomist addresses Kentucky Trucking Association Nov. 15

By Delia Treaster, PhD, CPE, BWC Ergonomic Consultant

Drowsy driving kills.

In 2013, it caused 72,000 crashes on our nation’s highways, killing at least 800 drivers and passengers and injuring another 44,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some feel the true number of fatalities is actually closer to 6,000 deaths per year.

Drowsy driving is of particular concern to the trucking industry, and that’s why I presented “Shift Work, Circadian Rhythms, and Sleep” to the Ohio Trucking Association in January this year. Some members from the Kentucky Trucking Association were in the audience and invited me to give the same presentation to their association. So with BWC approval, I packed up my PowerPoint and traveled to Louisville on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

The major points I shared with the association can apply to the rest of us, as well. The bottom line is this: Proper and sufficient sleep is critical to the quality of our lives at home and at work. Sleep deprivation impedes our work performance and threatens our health and safety. It can even cause brain damage. (More on that later.)

For truck drivers, it’s especially difficult to get a full and restful night of sleep. Irregular driving hours (often dictated by delivery schedules), lack of sufficient truck stops en route, and hours-of-service rules that don’t align with real world demands are some of the factors that can disrupt circadian rhythms and interfere with sleep. (Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.)

circadian-rhythms

Compounding the problem of sleep loss are electronic devices that emit blue light, such as laptops, tablets and smart phones. The wavelength of blue light has a strong inhibitory effect on the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Too much blue light at night and the amount of melatonin secreted in the brain drops dramatically. This leads to either poor sleep (with lots of night-time waking) or a delay in the sleep cycle, causing you to fall asleep later. Either way, it results in less sleep.

microsleepIf you’re sufficiently sleep deprived, you will fall asleep, whether it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night. This is because your brain simply shuts off, no matter the situation. It might be just an instance of “microsleep,”  a very short sleep episode lasting one to 30 seconds. Now imagine what that instance of microsleep can cause when you’re behind the wheel of a 40-ton 18-wheeler, or even a Subaru, for that matter, traveling at 70 mph.

People don’t know when they microsleep – indeed, you can microsleep with your eyes open! And you have no control over it. Just know that no amount of willpower, motivation, or training can overcome the effects of sleep deprivation.

Now, about that brain damage. Long term effects of chronic sleep loss can cause permanent brain damage. It turns out that sleep is essential for some basic brain housekeeping. Neurotoxins are removed during sleep – and only during sleep. Sleep loss means those neurotoxins accumulate in the brain, and that leads to neuron loss. Research has shown that sleep loss causes permanent and irreversible brain damage in mice.

Truck drivers aside, many people who work non-traditional hours (outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) face serious disruptions to their circadian rhythms, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep. So protect your health, your brain, and stay safe on the roads by getting enough sleep! That’s seven to eight hours for most people every night. Also, be sure to avoid caffeine and electronic devices late at night.

One or two nights of insufficient sleep aren’t too bad – we’ve all been there – but don’t make a habit of it. Just be sure to make up your “sleep debt” as soon as possible.

Delia Treaster joined BWC’s Division of Safety and Hygiene in November 2013. She holds a master’s degree in human factors engineering and a Ph.D. in occupational biomechanics.