how daylight savings time impacts health
Tip/Thought of the Day

How Daylight Savings Time Impacts The Body

Daylight savings started on the second Sunday of March, leading most Americans to push their clocks forward one hour. Understandably, losing the extra hour of sleep and the disruption to routine is a dreaded experience for many. Sleep is greatly impacted by circadian rhythms, which are mental, physical, and behavioral. DST disrupts our natural cycles and can lead to significant health and safety risks; those studying and advocating for ending DST view the shift as an interruption to natural cycles over eight months, not just the one-hour shift, twice a year.

What’s the point of DST?

Benjamin Franklin is credited for coming up with the idea to reset clocks in the summer months as a way to conserve energy. But, daylight savings time didn’t officially begin until more than a century later. Germany established DST in May 1916 as a way to conserve fuel during World War I, and in 1918, the United States adopted daylight saving time.

Though President Woodrow Wilson wanted to keep daylight saving time after WWI ended, the country was mostly rural at the time and farmers objected, partly because it would mean they lost an hour of morning light. Ultimately, daylight savings time was ended until WWII, when President Franklin Roosevelt reinstated it, under the name “War Time”.

After the war, states and towns were permitted to decide whether they would maintain DST, but chaos ensued and in 1966, the Uniform Time Act mandated that any state observing DST (and no state was required to participate) had to follow a uniform protocol throughout the state. Now, Arizona, Hawaii,and several U.S. territories are the only areas a part of the United States to opt out of the practice (and aren’t we lucky!), and stay on standard time year-round.

How Does DST Impact The Body?

The routine of DST goes beyond being a mild inconvenience; sleep disruption can actually lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other harmful effects of sleep deprivation, according to Dr. Beth Malow, director of the Sleep Disorders Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. We’ve shared how sleep regularity can affect weight, and also impact chronic pain.

Can one hour really make that big of a difference? Many (if not most!) people could testify to how losing even one hour of sleep can impact how they feel. This evidence shows the significant ways that losing sleep can affect focus, job performance, safety, and health:

-A Swedish study found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first 3 weekdays after switching to DST in the spring.

-Tiredness induced by the clock change is thought to be the main cause for the increase in traffic accidents on the Monday following the start of DST.

-On Mondays after the start of DST there were more workplace injuries, and the injuries were of greater severity compared with other Mondays.

Lack of sleep as well as sleep irregularity impact hormones that influence eating habits, causing overeating and a higher tendency to reach for junk food, which can ultimately lead to weight gain and other health concerns.

How To Combat Sleep Pattern Disruption

Some people have more flexible circadian rhythms and adjust quickly while others are more affected by the switch to and from DST, including children and people with neurological conditions. To combat the effects of sleep disruption:

  • Get as much light as possible when you wake up. Your body sets its rhythm in large part by light,
  • Maintain (or start) a morning exercise routine. Activity first thing in the morning not only helps wake you up, but it also sets the tone for your day. Ever find you are more hesitant to grab for unhealthy food after you’ve had a great workout? You are more likely to remember the work you’re putting in when you consider your food choices if you started your day on a healthy note.
  • Maintain your normal sleep routine. Not only does keeping a routine help you establish a routine that benefits your health in a variety of ways,
  • Don’t take a nap. That’s right- although you may feel like this would be a sure thing to lessen the sleep deficit, it can throw off your body’s effort to re-establish your rhythm, making the transition longer lasting.

Why Do We Continue DST?

Considering mounting evidence of the many ways sleep deprivation impacts people, their health, productivity, and general safety, there is a growing movement pushing to end the practice of daylight savings time. This year, dozens of states have bills proposing changes to daylight saving, and a scattering of states, including Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas have bills in progress to opt out of the shift entirely. This option would require the state to stay on standard time year round.

But the movement to end DST is often met by opposition from businesses that rely on the extra sunlight, and interestingly, it’s the golf industry that pushes back the most. Those in the golf industry cite the significant economic benefit the sport injects into the economy ($70 billion/year), that the sport employs 2M Americans, the generation of $4M in charitable giving (most of which goes to causes outside of golf), as well as the fact that golf facilities are often small businesses that are historically stable employers.

Arizona participated in daylight saving time in 1967, but energy consumption soared. In most of the country, an extra hour of daylight supposedly saved fuel used to heat and light buildings. But in Arizona, the scheme worked in reverse: air conditioners had to run longer. Businesses and schools paid more, farmers did not benefit, and parents resented an extra hour of scorching sunlight for kids since the saving lengthened the hot afternoon.

I remember the one year we switched. As a child it was horrifying. We went to school in the dark and had to sleep when it was still daylight at 9 P.M. Thankfully, Arizona stopped participating that very same year and remains on Mountain Standard Time year-round.

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