It’s not your imagination: you probably are getting less done today.
Blame Daylight Saving Time, the practice of setting clocks forward one hour in the spring. Long associated with an annual increase in car accidents and workplace injuries, the time change could also be impacting your productivity.
“Christopher Barnes, an assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Washington, recently found that most people tend to lose 40 minutes of sleep after Daylight Savings Time,” writes Richard Moy at The Muse. “Additionally, those 40 minutes also lead people to slack off on 20% of an assigned task on the following Monday. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it’s worth reemphasizing that this is a pretty significant amount of time. And all because the clocks get moved forward an hour.”
Why Do We Have Daylight Saving Time?
Contrary to what you might have been told in school, Daylight Saving Time was instituted to benefit businesses, not farmers. According to The History Channel, “the agriculture industry was deeply opposed to the time switch when it was first implemented on March 31, 1918, as a wartime measure. The sun, not the clock, dictated farmers’ schedules, so daylight saving was very disruptive.” Retail outlets and other businesses that benefited from an extra hour of daylight in the evening were more in favor.
“Since 1915, the principal supporter of daylight saving in the United States has been the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of small business and retailers,” Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, tells WNYC, per Fortune. “The Chamber understood that if you give workers more sunlight at the end of the day they’ll stop and shop on their way home.”
Farmers even successfully lobbied for repeal of the practice in 1919. However, not every state and city got on board. Some continued to spring forward in March, causing chaos for travelers and businesses. Daylight Saving Time became federal law in 1966, bringing with it an annual ritual of debating whether we should just call this whole thing off.
How Daylight Saving Time Affects Productivity
1. Lack of Sleep
Forty minutes of sleep might not sound like a lot, but small sleep deficits can add up.
In an interview with Business Insider, neuroscientist Matthew Walker, director of the sleep lab at UC Berkeley, describes Daylight Saving Time as a “global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people, twice a year.”
He says that research subjects who spend two weeks sleeping for seven hours a night instead of nine have slower reaction times of about half a second. Depending on what you do for a living, that half a second could add up to serious productivity lapses — or risks to life and limb.
This effect has safety implications for more than the workers themselves. No one wants their airline pilot or roofer working with a sleep deficit.
2. Short-Term Health Effects With Long-Term Consequences
If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything — least of all a track record of being a productive worker. The annual time change is associated with a spike in heart attacks, strokes, and workplace injuries. Lack of sleep can also your appetite, causing you to overeat, and your mood.
These effects can obviously have serious impacts on your ability to get stuff done. Most of these increased risks are temporary, but the long-term effects for workers who suffer, for example, a workplace accident due to lack of sleep are worth talking about.
And, in general, health and productivity are intertwined — a good thing to remember the next time you push yourself to the brink of burnout to impress the boss. The CDC reports that absenteeism costs U.S. employers $225.8 per year, or $1,685 per employee.
3. More “Cyberloafing”
Are you spending more time catching up with celebrities on Instagram than you are on doing your actual work today? If so, you’re not alone. Research has shown that workers waste more time online after the time change.
Per Live Science:
A 2012 Journal of Applied Psychology study found that the incidence of cyberloafing significantly increased in more than 200 metropolitan U.S. regions during the first Monday after daylight saving time in the spring, compared with the Mondays directly before and one week after the transition. The team attributed the shift to a lack of sleep and thus lack of workday motivation and focus, but was not able to verify this experimentally.
What Can You Do to Be More Productive While You Adjust?
“Within a few days, you should adjust to the new time schedule naturally as your circadian rhythm catches up to your new reality,” advises the National Sleep Foundation. “If you have the foresight to plan ahead, it helps to prepare for losing that hour of sleep by going to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier than usual each night in the days leading up to the time change. If you don’t, at least turn in earlier on the night of the time change to try to recoup some of that lost shuteye.”
Of course, that won’t help you if you’re reading this on Monday morning or later in the week, still bleary-eyed from the transition. But there are a few things you do to get back up to your normal productivity levels sooner:
1. Use a Light Box
Can’t spend half an hour outdoors first thing in the morning — or don’t live in a place where the sun cooperates that early? Try a light box. These sunlight simulators work by “stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms,” according to Michael Craig Miller, M.D. (in a Harvard Health Publishing article about the use of light boxes in treating seasonal affective disorder).
2. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
If you’re still bringing your phone or tablet to bed with you, take your current grogginess as a reminder that it’s time to stop. Your favorite mobile devices emit blue light, which suppresses the release of melatonin in the brain, making your body think that it’s daytime instead of sleepy-time.
Research suggests that habitually looking at light-emitting devices before bedtime can interfere with your body’s natural circadian timing, affecting sleep quality and leading to morning grogginess. So put your phone to bed at least an hour before you turn in, to make sure that your brain is ready for sleep.
WebMD also advises:
Basic sleep hygiene includes reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising several hours before bedtime, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax yourself (taking a hot bath for example), and wearing ear plugs and eye masks, to name a few. Also important is going to bed and rising at the same time every day. Though there is no evidence that certain diets will actually influence your circadian rhythm, carbohydrates tend to make it easier to fall sleep.
3. Plan Your Diet Accordingly
You probably already know that it’s a bad idea to consume too much caffeine late in the day. But your other food and beverage choices can also affect your ability to fall asleep and get quality shuteye. According to The Better Sleep Council, it’s best to finish meals two to three hours before bedtime and avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine right before bed.
“Limit caffeine to the morning and finish your alcohol consumption by early evening,” the Council advises. “Smoking before bed can also stimulate your body and make it hard to sleep.”
4. Skip the Nap (or Keep It Short)
Unless you’re a freelancer or working at a cool tech company with nap pods, taking a nap during the day probably isn’t a possibility. But maybe you’ll feel better knowing that napping wouldn’t help you deal with your sleep deficit anyway. Prolonged naps (i.e., those that last more than half an hour or so) can interfere with your ability to sleep at night — not what you need when you’re already dealing with the time change.
“Try not to take naps,” advises sleep specialist Harneet Walia, MD at the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials. “If you have to take them, take them early and for no longer than 20 minutes.”
5. Relocate Your Alarm Clock
Need a simple trick to get out of bed in the morning? Move your alarm clock — at least for the next few days. It’s harder to get into a snooze cycle when you have to cross the room to silence your alarm.
6. Move Important Meetings (If You Can)
Finally, remember that all of this is temporary. By the end of the week, you should be back to your normal self. So, if you can move that important meeting or deadline without fallout, do so.
And if you can’t, remember that you’re probably not at your best, and reach out to teammates for help. Ask your eagle-eyed coworker to proofread your report or to take a look at your documentation. Chances are, they’re feeling pretty groggy as well, but two sets of eyes are better than one.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you find that you’re less productive after the clocks spring forward? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.