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The Impacts of Daylight Savings On Our Health

Daylight savings – a bi-annual event where those affected by it can come together over shared tiredness. Some look to it with anticipation of that extra hour of evening sunlight, much needed after the short dark days of winter. Most, however,  are waiting for the inevitable grogginess from a lost hour of sleep and subsequent week(s) of adjusting to the new time. If you grew up in a place where daylight savings time (DST) was observed, you may not have thought much about it. It was just part of the yearly cycle from fall to winter and winter to spring. But more and more, people are asking why DST is even necessary, and we think that’s a good question to be asking.

The Origin of Daylight Savings Time

So how did this all start? The year, 1902. The place, Great Britain. British builder William Willett comes up with the idea to move the clock forward two hours as a way to prevent the nation from wasting daylight. He proposed his idea to England’s Parliament endorsed by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but was initially rejected. Two years after World War 1, the German government had begun brainstorming ways to save energy when they remembered Willetts proposal. It was implemented almost immediately and it didn’t take long for other countries to follow suit. 

Energy Saver

When Daylight savings was first implemented it did save energy. Coal dominated the energy sector in the early 20th century and more daylight during working hours meant that less coal was being burned. Today, the effect of DST on energy consumption is highly scrutinized. A report from the National Research Council of Canada says that there is a consensus that DST does contribute to an evening reduction in peak demand for electricity, though that may be offset by an increase in the morning. Several studies have demonstrated a 0.5% reduction in national electricity consumption. However, just as many studies have shown no effect, and some even suggest an increase in energy consumption.

Impact on Our Health

The twice a year desynchronization of our internal clocks only further contributes to sleeplessness, which leads to an increased risk of mental illness, and has been linked to depression, obesity, heart attacks, cancer, and car accidents.

A study published in November 2020 analyzed data from over 150 million unique patients in the US and the Swedish national inpatient register, which incorporates over 9 million unique Swedes. The data collected was alarming. For hundreds of sex- and age-specific diseases, they assessed the effects of the DST shifts forward and backward by one hour in spring and autumn by comparing the observed and expected diagnosis rates after DST shift exposure. The study found 4 prominent, elevated risk clusters associated with the DST shift in the US and Sweden. These were cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks), injuries, mental and behavioral disorders, and immune-related diseases. While most disease risk elevations are modest, a considerable amount exhibited an approximately 10% relative risk increase. It is estimated that each spring DST shift is associated with negative health effects– with 150,000 incidents in the US and 880,000 globally.

Is Daylight Savings Still Necessary?

If changing the clocks doesn’t help us save energy and puts our health at risk– why are we still doing it? Well, the answer comes down to the legislation. DST is widely implemented across North America where changing laws can get expensive. A legislature in Alberta, Canada, suggested that holding a referendum on DST would cost the province between $2 million and $6 million, even if put into a standard election ballot. There is also a divide in opinion on whether DST is useful or useless. In 2012, a poll of 1000 American adults found that 45% thought that daylight savings were worth it, while more than 40% considered it useless. The idea of eliminating the clock change has been gaining popularity in the last few years. A White House petition to congress has over 5.5 million signatures asking to “stop messing with our schedules.” 

For now, the debate over Daylight Savings will continue. Perhaps a time will come when we begin to phase it out, but for the time being, all we can do is prepare. Here are a few things you can do that will make the ‘Spring Forward’ more bearable.

Gradually adjust your sleep schedule

Ease into an earlier bedtime/wake-up time by going to sleep 10-15 minutes earlier each day. This will help your body make up for the lost hour of sleep.

Avoid extra caffeine/alcohol

We know how tempting it is to have an extra coffee when drowsiness sets in mid-day. Try to avoid drinking caffeine 4-5 hours before bedtime. Additionally, it’s best to avoid alcohol as a way to help you fall asleep. Though having a drink may make you feel drowsy, alcohol disrupts your sleep and prolongs a cycle of sleeplessness. 

Get some sun

If possible, try to get as much sun exposure as possible. The sun helps our bodies to regulate our circadian rhythm, which tells our body when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Some time in the sun can also put you in a better mood. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin. If you can’t get access to some rays first thing in the morning, consider investing in a sun lamp that mimics outdoor natural light. If you’re getting your sunlight naturally, remember to wear sunscreen! 

Avoid long naps

This is always a hard one after DST kicks in, but try your best to avoid taking naps longer than 20 minutes. Taking a long, mid-day snooze can make it harder for you to fall asleep later in the evening.