Daylight savings starts in the spring and ends in the fall each year, and we love that extra hour of sleep that comes with it. That extra hour cuddled up in your bed makes losing the hour in spring worth it. Besides, the farmers needed that extra hour for crops, right?
We’ve touched on this before, but there’s a growing body of evidence that daylight savings time is an antiquated setup that causes more issues than it alleviates. Currently, the arguments for Daylight Saving Time (DST) are that it saves energy by lessening a need for lights, reduces car accidents by making it less likely that you’ll be driving in the dark, and gives you a longer day in the summer to be enjoyed. While these may have been true at one point, there are real dangers to DST that counteract these.
Falling Back… Into Bed Exhausted
We’ll get more into the risks of springing forward and losing an hour of sleep later, but let’s focus on the fall end of DST first. The lack of sleep and its negatives are all made up in the fall, right? You get an extra hour of sleep and it’s added an hour of daylight in the morning. That should be great for people who are going to work! Funny enough, two studies have refuted both benefits. For one, that hour you get back rarely goes to sleep. There is actually little evidence to suggest that we gain an hour of sleep, with more evidence pointing to the contrary. Instead, people tend to experience difficulty sleeping, disrupted sleep, behavioral issues, and a general loss of sleep.
This same study pointed to a correlated rise in car accidents, refuting the second benefit of the fall shift in time. While this rise is only correlated, it’s backed up by the findings in a New England Journal of Medicine letter to the editor. This study showed in Figure 1 that, while the number of accidents dropped immediately after DST, it rose another five percent from before the switch to afterward.
Researchers also believe they’ve found a link between the fall DST and seasonal affective disorder, which mimics general depression brought on by the change of seasons. It’s most common during the late fall and winter, as the days grow shorter. While this time of year commonly sees an uptick in depression cases, there was a large spike in cases in aftermath of the fall change. The reason for this eight percent increase is the way Daylight Saving Time manipulates the amount of sunlight we get.
In this way, we actually get less sunlight than we do other times of the year.
For example, even though we gain an hour of sunlight in the morning, much of that time is spent sleeping in, washing in the shower, traveling in a car or bus on the way to work or school, or eating breakfast. Then, by the time we’re home, it’s dark. In this way, we actually get less sunlight than we do other times of the year, when we get home and it’s still light out.
Springing Forward… Into Health Worries
When we discussed how you can deal with losing an hour of sleep, we hinted at a few ways that the spring time change can be dangerous. One study found that your risk of stroke rises in the days after springing forward. Your chances of a stroke are even worse if you also suffer from cancer, climbing 25 percent. If you’re Medicare-aged (65+), you’re 20 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, too. And that’s only for an hour difference.
Other studies have routinely shown that heart attacks are more likely after the spring transition. One 2014 study saw a 10 percent increase in heart attack cases immediately after the start of DST. Another found that hospitals report a 24 percent increase in heart attacks after DST begins. While there isn’t a definitive reason why, it’s believed to be because of sleep deprivation-induced stress. As if heart attacks and stroke aren’t enough of a concern, a 2008 study found an increase in suicides immediately following the spring DST start.
Beyond these serious concerns, we have decades of evidence showing that car accidents — fatal and otherwise — see a massive uptick immediately after the spring shift. This increase may be as high as 17 percent for traffic-related deaths alone. Much like heart attacks, the cause is believed to be due to the lack of sleep and a reduction in reaction time and focus, and it can take up to a week to recover from the lost sleep. With how dangerous driving in general can be for seniors, this added accident risk should be considered.
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While there’s certainly reason for keeping Daylight Saving Time, we feel there’s enough evidence that the idea of abolishing DST needs to be examined, at the very least. Do you agree? Send us your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, and tell us what you think!
Boston Globe — Proof daylight saving time is dumb, dangerous, and costly
Scientific American — Does Daylight Saving Time Conserve Energy?
Washington Post — It’s time to ‘fall back’ again — daylight saving time ends this weekend