It seems that there is a love-hate relationship between American citizens and Daylight Saving Time. While we may love having one extra hour of light in spring and summer, we hate losing the hour of sleep. While we hate it being darker an hour earlier, worsened by the already shorter days, in fall and winter, we love gaining the “extra” hour of sleep.
Daylight Saving Time was invented in 1918 as a way to give everyone more daylight hours during months that are warm. Though it already had some complaints, mainly from farmers of how it disrupted their schedule that followed the natural pattern of the sun, the United States officially standardized DST in the 1960s.
Like a large majority of people, Brant Hasler, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks that DST is no longer necessary. He attributes this thought to “both the health downsides and from living in Arizona, where they do not observe daylight saving time and do just fine”.
Other health effects include cluster headaches at the end of DST, and over-eating
Whatever the feelings about DST, it has been proven to negatively affect our health. The human biological clock, known as our circadian rhythm, is programmed to work with the movements of the sun. So while DST is going on, our internal clocks are actually out of sync- causing loss of sleep and irregular sleeping patterns in a large percentage of people- then after it ends, our bodies return to their normal circadian rhythm. This means that scientifically, the switch to save time in the spring is more challenging on our bodies, however, both switches have been proven to cause sleep pattern disruptions for up to a week afterward.
Other health effects include cluster headaches at the end of DST, and over-eating, caused by the hormone level changes that occur with sleep deprivation. Additionally, the effects of DST on mental health coupled with sleep deprivation may lead to the increase of work-related injuries and car accidents. Studies have also suggested that the rate of heart attacks and stokes in the US is dramatically increased in the first three weeks of DST.
Hasler notes, “Our biological clocks evolved to make small daily changes — the changes in day length that naturally occur over the course of the year”. So one thing we can do to defeat the effects of the time transition on our bodies is to adjust our physical clocks and schedules by small increments, like 15 minutes, for several days before the switch occurs. This should be easier than an abrupt one hour transition that most people just try to accept. Also, those who are night owls have a harder time adjusting to the the later light in the spring, since the body naturally relies on the light to wake up. So using bright lights in the morning, or having them come one with timers, may help the body with the adjustment. It is also important to try to keep to a regular sleeping schedule, though the change in light may altar our daily schedule and mess with our perception of time. So, keeping an eye on the time and trying to get to bed at our regular hour is important for normal body functioning. Not staying up an hour later just because we have gained another hour is also a wise tip to keep in mind.
Though many of the reasons for using DST may be antiquated, and there are proven downsides and health effects, there are still some positive attributes of enjoying more light. So the ultimate fate of DST in the US may be in the balance, but in the meantime, with pro-activeness and the right knowledge, we can do our best to help our bodies adjust and flow with the changes.