Daylight savings is bad for healthBy MONTELL WATKINS,
Daylight Savings Time (DST) is a practice that persists despite little evidence that it achieves its stated goal of decreasing energy use. Suffice to say that the actual energy savings are minimal, if any. The most frequently cited evidence for energy savings due to DST is a 2008 report to Congress by the Department of Energy which showed that the total electricity savings from the extended daylight saving period that began in 2007 amounted to about 0.03 percent of electricity over the year, which is minuscule savings. One study looking at energy use in Indiana after it adopted DST was actually associated with at least a one percent increase in residential use. Other studies corroborate this effect. At best, DST is a wash; and at worst, it increases energy consumption.
More importantly, that lack of benefit in terms of decreasing energy consumption comes at a considerable cost, and that’s because the lost hour of sleep comes not from wakeful time, but rather primarily from resting hours. In addition to all the other detrimental effects of DST we are learning sleep is important, and Americans, being chronically sleep deprived year round, are especially vulnerable to even minor disruptions in sleep, such that even a disruption as seemingly minor as the spring transition to DST and its associated “loss’ of an hour can have ripple effects on health that we have been beginning to appreciate over the last decade or so. This results in many problems associated with sleep deprivation and disrupted Circadian rhythms.
Multiple studies show that there are more motor vehicle collisions the Monday after the time change to DST. In 1996, Canadian researchers noted that the number of traffic accidents rose significantly. That study also states that the number of crashes declines in the fall transition back to standard time is very compelling. In his 2014 paper on the relationship between DST and fatal vehicle crashes, Austin C. Smith, an assistant professor of economics at Miami University states that there are more car accidents for six days following the spring time change.
A more recent study in 2016 published in the American Economic Journal estimated that the impact of DST from 2002-2011 resulted in more than 30 deaths at a social cost of $275 million annually and that this result is most consistent with sleep deprivation as a cause. Yet another study from 2004 estimates that never changing the clock all year round would reduce pedestrian fatalities by 171 per year, or 13 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the 5 to 10 a.m. time period.
There is growing evidence of harm to health and well-being. It is also in the news more than usual this year because recently Florida passed a law that would allow it to observe DST year round. Although states have the power to opt out of DST, they do not have the power to opt out of standard time year round. It would require a change in federal law for Florida’s law to take effect. The state of Massachusetts is considering ditching DST altogether, joining places like Nova Scotia and Puerto Rico. Other states in the Northeast are considering the move as well. The Maine House and Senate passed separate bills in support of ditching DST, but only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire do too. Hawaii does not observe DST, and neither does Arizona.
Swedish data suggest the risk of myocardial infarction to be significantly elevated for the first three weekdays after the transition to DST. A 2013 study in The American Journal of Cardiology found a similar result, with an increase of heart attack rates the Sunday after the shift to DST. A recent University of Alabama study found that heart attacks increase by 10-20 percent on Monday following the shift to DST. A 2014 study in the journal Open Heart found that on the Monday after DST begins 24 percent more people have heart attacks. Another study noted a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks the Tuesday after DST ends. Additionally, a preliminary study conducted in Finland links higher stroke rates with DST.
There are reports indicating increased work-related injuries and accidents on the Monday following the DST transition. A 2009 analysis from Michigan State University of the OSHA database of mining injuries for the years 1983-2006 found that on the Monday following the time change miners suffered more workplace injuries and injuries of greater severity, with a 5.7 percent increase in injuries and a 67.6 percent increase in days of work lost because of injuries. The same study found that the miners arrived at work with an average of 40 minutes less sleep the night before.
There are a number of other adverse health consequences that have been linked to the DST transition. Another 2008 study found higher male suicide rates the week after the switchover to DST, although it also found higher suicide rates after the fall switch back to standard time, suggesting that it is sleep change, not sleep deprivation, which could be responsible.
Because our bodies have circadian rhythms influencing our natural sleep and wake patterns, when we forcibly adjust our wake times it causes us to experience fatigue. Research shows that this happens whether we are getting more or less sleep. In other words whether the clock is moved backward or forward we will feel a negative effect. The most obvious effect is that we have trouble adjusting to the new sleep regimen which is out of sync with our circadian rhythm. Consequently, we don’t sleep well and therefore end up feeling tired during the day. The effects can be felt for as long as three weeks after the time change. During this period, disturbed sleep can rob us of an hour of sleep per day. We tend to be less able to make wise decisions and we tend to be a lot less productive when we are tired. This was borne out by a study featured in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The study found that, after a time change, workers spent more time surfing the internet than they did working. This finding is not all that surprising. Fatigue makes it more difficult to concentrate and it’s natural to try to avoid this type of work when we are tired.
What logical reason can there be for continuing the lunacy of Daylight Saving Time?
Montell Watkins is a Northsider.