By Mira Postelnek
Daylight savings (DLS) is often viewed as an annoyance each spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, and as a miraculous time each fall, when we gain a full hour of sleep. DLS, however, can have a major impact on one’s health.
The mandate of daylight savings began during World War I, and again during World War II, there was an energy crisis which led to the creation of daylight savings. The intention behind DLS was to have extra light in the afternoon, and thus conserving energy by decreasing the amount of electricity needed in the evenings. Unfortunately, this intended reduction of electricity is undermined due to the electricity consumed by school children and workers who wake up and start their days prior to sunrise. Additionally, DLS only prolongs daylight for a maximum of one hour, during the spring and fall months.
Studies done by the U.S department of Transportation in 1975 show that DLS cut the world’s energy consumption by approximately one percent. The decrease in electricity use was counteracted by an increase in heating and air conditioning during winter mornings and late summer afternoons respectively, making the reasoning behind DLS essentially ineffectual. Therefore, the supposed advantage of gaining daylight is nearly insignificant compared to the actual expenditure of electricity being used after sunset, due to the late sunrises in winter months. Another pro-daylight savings hypothesis was that crime rates would drop with more daylight hours. Although this hypothesis had some truth, the improvement was negligible, and the detriments to health outweighed the slightly lowered crime rates.
The health issues associated with DLS were explored in a 2020 study. Researchers discovered the effects of “springing forward” were not only an inconvenience, but were also correlated with serious health effects. The change in DLS disrupts work schedules, rest schedules, and circadian clock rhymes. Noticeable alterations in behaviors are seen after DLS during waking hours, based on self-reported alertness and a significant increase in fatal traffic accidents (reportedly a 30% increase on DLS day). Most importantly, a 3.9% elevation rate in myocardial infarctions was found during DLS. This research study verified adverse reactions associated with DLS shift, including strokes, heart attacks, sleep deprivation, and immune related conditions.
The disruption in sleeping patterns due to DLS is a direct, major detriment to health. The “falling back” in November seems to have relatively benign effects. While it may cause minor misbalance, research hasn’t shown significant health impacts. Springing forward however, makes it feel like 7 a.m. when the clocks really read 8 a.m. This shift throws off the body’s natural circadian rhythm for months to follow. This most severely affects adolescents who may already be chronically sleep deprived due to school, sports, and social activities. The majority of children and workers begin school and work at 8 a.m., meaning that during daylight savings, they must travel in darkness. The time shift sets off our body’s natural rhythm since morning light, which is delayed a full hour, improves alertness.
The delayed sunrise may also increase levels of cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. This increased stress level is potentially a result of decreased light exposure on the amygdala, which is the area in our brains that regulates emotions. Additionally, the later sunset creates a delay in the brain’s release of melatonin (the hormone that promotes drowsiness). This delay in melatonin release causes less overall sleep and creates more problems than the one hour lost during the clock change. Some scientists believe that this change in sleep patterns results in circadian misalignment, a mismatch between our biological rhythms and the outside world.
These unnatural and unhealthy effects on our bodies due to DLS is why the abolishment of DLS and adoption of a permanent standard time would be beneficial. On March 15, 2022, the U.S senate passed legislation that would cancel daylight savings and establish a permanent time starting in 2023, ending the twice annual clock change. The Senate approved this measure, called the Sunshine Protection Act, unanimously by voice vote. This bill must first be passed by the House of Representatives before President Joe Biden can sign and make this official in the United States.