- Every spring, Americans advance their clocks one hour to change to daylight saving time.
- Scientists say this long-standing practice can actually harm our health and safety.
- Daylight saving time can disrupt our circadian rhythms, making us less alert and prone to illness or accident.
- Many sleep experts are calling for its abolition.
- In the meantime, a gradual change in sleep schedule leading up to the time change can help minimize the effects.
On March 13, most of the United States – with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii – “jumped forward”, adjusting their clocks by one hour. Later this year, on November 6, they will reverse the process by “going back” 1 hour.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) is a practice that was first adopted by Germany on May 1, 1916, as a way to save fuel during World War I. It quickly spread to the rest of Europe and finally reached the United States 2 years later. March 19, 1918.
While DST has been in effect for decades, scientists have begun to realize that any benefits it offers may be outweighed by its negative effects on human health and safety.
Dr. Susheel Patil, an associate clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine who specializes in sleep medicine, said the time changes associated with daylight saving time typically cause us to lose sleep for about 1 week until we adapt to the change.
However, while we are going through this period of adjustment, it can put our health and safety at risk.
“Sleep loss has been shown to lead to an increase in car accidents in the week following the change to daylight saving time, and there may be an increase of around 20% in incidents related to patient safety associated with human error,” Patil said.
“In addition, daylight saving time has been associated with an increase in heart problems such as acute occurrence of heart attacks, strokes, and atrial fibrillation,” he said.
Dr. Kristin Eckel-Mahan, an associate professor and circadian rhythm researcher at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, added that some studies have also shown an increase in workplace injuries in the week following the spring shift.
Additionally, according to Dr. Andrea Matsumura, a sleep medicine physician at the Oregon Clinic and a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Public Safety Committee, seasonal time changes associated with DST can lead to mood swings as well as “cyberloafing” and reduced productivity.
The experts Healthline spoke to say it all comes down to the circadian rhythm and how daylight saving time disrupts that rhythm.
“Circadian rhythms are natural, internal cycles in the body that regulate physical, mental, and behavioral changes over a 24-hour cycle,” Patil said.
Circadian rhythms play a vital role in regulating sleep and wakefulness and are influenced by our exposure to light and dark.
They help ensure that we sleep at night and are awake during the day.
“Without a circadian rhythm, we wouldn’t be able to sustain long periods of wakefulness and sleep like most humans do,” Patil said.
Daylight saving time causes problems, according to Patil, because people usually wake up at a fixed time. When they have to start waking up earlier, especially when it’s darker than before, it means the delicate balance of the circadian rhythm is disrupted, leading to daytime sleepiness, Patil said.
“The effects are similar to a traveler flying between Chicago and Washington, DC, adjusting to the local time change,” he said.
On March 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing on DST with a panel of experts talking about its effects on health and safety and its possible deletion.
Experts said they support the decision to scrap daylight saving time.
Matsumura said his organization supports the complete abolition of daylight saving time. In the opinion of the organization, the best would be to adopt permanent standard time.
In a 2020 position statement – which has been endorsed by more than 20 medical, scientific and civic organizations – the group said standard time is more aligned with our natural circadian rhythm and more conducive to health and safety. public.
Patil agrees with the group.
“My personal opinion is that daylight saving time is outdated and certainly not suited to sleep or the circadian rhythm. It increases the health and safety risks to our society with questionable economic benefits. It would be better to establish a permanent standard time,” Patil said.
Eckel-Mahan said she agrees the normal time of day isn’t worth the health risks, pointing to studies showing that some people who have a late “owl” chronotype (staying late and rising late) don’t never fully adapt to daylight saving time.
“It may put some people at higher risk for metabolic disease,” she said.
Until laws across the United States change, however, many people will continue to be affected by sleep deprivation during the transition from spring to daylight saving time.
Experts say there are several things you can do in the meantime to help reduce your fatigue after the time change.
Eckel-Mahan suggests starting to adjust your schedule a few days in advance by going to bed a little earlier and waking up a little earlier each day.
“This will slowly shift your melatonin secretion and make it easier to adapt to the abrupt hour of sleep loss you might otherwise experience,” she said.
Food intake is also an important driver of our peripheral circadian clocks, such as in the liver, kidneys and fatty tissue, Eckel-Mahan said. You can also start changing your meal times.
Patil further suggests making sure you get enough sleep each night of this process – around 7-8 hours.
In addition, he recommends exposing yourself to bright light when waking up on the Sunday of the time change and during the days that follow.
“Exposure to bright light will reset your circadian system,” Patil said.
In addition to the above, Matsumura suggests dimming your lights and minimizing your use of screens during the hour before bedtime.
Bright light can send a message to your brain to be awake, which is the opposite of what you need if you’re falling asleep.