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Is Daylight Savings Time Bad for Your Health?

November 4, 2015

On Sunday November 2, Californian’s gained an extra hour of sleep with the ending of Daylight Savings Time (“DST”). As many people appreciated the additional hour of sleep following Halloween weekend, it is however important to note that such a small shift in time can actually have a large impact on our body’s internal clock and health which can have lasting effects on our productivity, something not beneficial considering how close to the end of the semester we are.

DST beings on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. It was enacted during World War I to decrease energy use but was jokingly advocated by Benjamin Franklin long before that. Back in the 1700s Franklin noticed that people used candles at night and slept past dawn in the mornings. He joked that by shifting time by an hour during the summer people would burn fewer candles and not sleep through the morning sunlight, thereby increasing productivity and saving resources. There is an ongoing debate as to any possible energy saving benefits but we do know that there are well-documented negative impacts to our health and economy as a result of DST.

Transitions associated with the start and end of DST disturb sleep patterns and make people restless at night resulting in increased sleepiness the next day. Even during the “Fall Back” period, individuals may struggle adjusting to going to sleep later after the time changes. This sleepiness leads to a loss of productivity, which affects both the economy and the effectiveness studying for law students.

During the first week of DST, in late winter, there is a spike in heart attacks according to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology. This is directly correlated to an increase of stress related to losing an hour of sleep and having less time to recover overnight. Conversely. the end of DST causes a decrease in heart attacks.

However, not all studies done show a negative impact from DST. One study published in October indicated that children in Europe and Australia received more physical activity during the extended evening daylight hours. Additionally, deadly car crashes decrease during DST because it is more likely to be light out when there are more people on the road (i.e. during morning and afternoon rush hours).

Why is this? The impacts of DST are likely related to our body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm, which regulates when we feel awake and when we feel sleepy as well as our hunger and hormone production schedules. Light dictates how much melatonin our bodies produce, so when its bright out, our bodies make less and when its dark, our body creates more causing us to become more tired and prepare us for bed.

The problems associated with DST are worse in the spring after losing an hour of sleep. The sun rises later, making it more difficult to wake up because our bodies rely on the light to reset its natural clock. As with anytime you lose sleep, the beginning of DST causes decreased in performance, concentration, and memory, as well as fatigue and daytime sleepiness. All these health-related impacts affect the economy as well. An index from Chmura Economics & Analytics, released last year, suggests that the cost could be up to $434 million in the US alone. 

There’s no doubt that DST affects all people from children to adults. I have found that it takes me at least a week to get back on a regular sleep schedule following the time change. For me, DST is like an extended version of jet lag without the benefits of going somewhere cool. As law students, a loss in productivity is something that we cannot afford.

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