The institutionalization of Daylight Saving Time (DST) in the US 1942—a federal mandate in which citizens are required to reset their clocks one hour in advance on a preselected day in the spring (usually in March)—originated in order for us to make more productive use of daylight and so that we could conserve energy.
These seem like admirable goals. So… Why does it make us so crazy?
It’s rare that you hear someone praise the gains of a clock reset that means losing an hour of sleep. Most people are sleep deprived as it is and don’t want anything to cut further into their snooze time.
Daylight Saving Time has become the “other March Madness,” a policy that statistics claim more than two thirds of US Americans want to abolish.
Whatever gains we may have enjoyed from employing the rule in the past seem to have become lost in our need to reclaim our sleep, it seems, with the costs of lost sleep measurable and considerable.
While just one hour of lost sleep is hardly the same thing as chronic sleep deprivation, what’s not considered is the shift that it requires of the body’s circadian rhythms. Because our sleep-wake cycles are synchronized with the light-dark cycles of the planet, any shift away from what the body and brain are aligned with is going to be felt for a few days until the rhythms can become realigned.
The additional exposure to sunlight delays the brain’s production of melatonin, as well. Melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleep, and without it, insomnia can result. It’s no wonder that following the spring time change, moods can run afoul, digestive systems might experience interruptions, and focus and concentration can take a hit.
It doesn’t require heaps of expensive research for any of us to know what to expect if we lose sleep the night before.
If we go to work the next morning, we may be more prone to making mistakes on the job. These could be mistakes in judgment, clerical errors, misplaced documents, clumsy inventory handling, or failures to follow protocol. These productivity busters ultimately cost employers money, especially when they involve malpractice, accidents involving machinery, or lost accounts due to missed meetings or phone calls.
If we aren’t commuting in the morning, we may still have trouble getting family members off to school or work, experience clumsiness while doing chores, have more car accidents due to fatigue or miss appointments.
Parents are infamously sleep deprived, so the effect that the time change can have on Mom or Dad means they’re less prepared to handle the organizational, physical, and emotional aspects of parenthood in the days following Daylight Saving Time.
To make things worse, young children don’t tend to tolerate the sleep deprivation caused by Daylight Saving Time. It means they may have a sudden change in appetite, or they may experience mood swings, or they may struggle to focus their attention during school or while doing homework.
If your child has a medical condition such as autism, diabetes, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the added circadian shift could be especially disruptive to them.
It’s no coincidence that highway safety messages about drowsy driving tend to cluster around both time changes in the year.
Austin C. Smith, author of a 2014 University of Colorado Boulder study on drowsy driving and institutional time changes, discovered an uptick in car crashes over the six days following either shift (spring or fall). Smith suggests this is due to “shifting ambient light” in the fall, when clocks are reset to Standard Time, and to “sleep deprivation caused by the spring transition.”
Over a 10-year sample period, Smith attributed 302 traffic fatalities to Daylight Saving Time. This implies 6.3 percent increase in deaths over those six post-change days when compared to other times.
For people with diabetes, timing of insulin dosing is a critical part of their daily care regimen. When they use insulin pumps, glucose meters, or blood sugar monitoring systems which rely on accurate timing, they have additional tasks when it comes to resetting clocks. Even one hour off their regular schedule can mean receiving an incorrect dosage, which could have serious consequences.
Meanwhile, a 12-hour mistake in timing (when hours are reset, but the AM/PM distinction is overlooked) can be disastrous, as nighttime insulin dosages vary radically from those taken during the day.
People with diabetes will also experience more noticeable swings in blood sugar throughout the days following Daylight Saving Time and should be vigilant about checking their glucose. They may also experience something called Dawn Phenomenon, which is an unprecedented rise in glucose at the moment they wake up.
Resetting the clock by even an hour can spell chaos for a family where at least one member has autism. Even the smallest changes in ordinary daily life can make it difficult for a person with autism to function, so a one-hour leap in time can be extremely problematic, especially as they relate to the abstract concept of time.
Regular schedules are a best practice for providing stability for an autistic person. Daylight Saving Time makes any gradual change (over several weeks) difficult for families, who may expect to see more episodes from their loved ones in the days that follow.
The incidence of stroke has been shown to increase by as much as 8 percent during the two days after Daylight Saving Time takes effect (MedicineNet, 2016). Vascular problems result from increased blood pressure in the morning that is partly due to the circadian misalignment that is the result of the time change.
Like stroke, heart disease is linked with poor sleep and sleep deprivation, so it’s no surprise that the incidence of heart attack also increases by as much as 25 percent following these time adjustments.
Physical stress isn’t the only side effect of misaligned circadian rhythms; mental health problems can increase in the days following either the fall or spring time change. Anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, or psychological strain are all potential ways you might “feel” the changes after Daylight Saving Time.
Ironically, the original directive to adopt Daylight Saving Time was based on energy conservation (and not on the environmental needs of farmers, though that myth persists).
Forbes magazine columnist Kelly Phillips Erb writes: “In 2010, Utah State University economist William F. Shughart II suggested that turning the clocks forward and backward each year results in $1.7 billion of lost opportunity cost each year in the U.S. alone.” While that estimate is based on a tongue-in-cheek measurement of how much productive time is “lost” to actually changing clocks, the reality is that it might, in fact, cost us more money to keep moving our clocks forward.
While Arizona and Hawaii and been the two states which do not observe the time change, Indiana was a third state that, until 2006, mostly did not observe Daylight Saving Time (85 percent of its counties didn’t, anyway). When the state finally moved to a state-wide shift toward DST, the state discovered that it actually used 1 percent more energy, equaling $9 million in additional costs.
However, when Daylight Saving Time was extended by four weeks in the US in 2007, new research gathered during that time actually showed a 0.5 percent decrease in energy use per day during DST.
Controversy persists. Whether it’s a relevant practice depends upon who you ask. Supporters want the extra daylight during the spring and summer months, while detractors find the change a safety, productivity, and economic nuisance.
However, life in the United States in 1942 is different than it is in 2017. Lighting homes no longer requires the same expenditure in money and resources that it did back then, and options are both affordable and sustainable. Also, workplace schedules are less likely to be timed to the agricultural work day like they were in the past, thanks to computer technology and globalization.
Federal law allows for states, through their own legislative processes, to completely opt out of Daylight Saving Time and remain in Standard Time. Currently, Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that remain in year-round observation of Standard Time. For them, there is no “fall back” in the autumn, nor is there a “spring forward” in March.
This all may change, however, as several other states have, at one time or another, thrown their bids for change into the legislative ring to abolish the time change and keep to Standard Time. These states include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
However, federal law does not allow for states to remain in Daylight Saving Time year round. This is problematic for the states of Alabama Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, which have previously considered or are now actively petitioning the abolishment of the time change altogether, preferring the year-round observation of Daylight Saving Time. For Massachusetts and Maine, this would also mean they would become part of the Atlantic Time Zone.
Meanwhile, the state of Idaho remains in a “pick one or the other mode,” wishing to change to either time zone and abolish the time switch entirely.
Whether any new bills will pass to change the way states manage their time is still up for grabs; many efforts in the past to shoot down DST have been fruitless. However the conflict gets resolved, one thing remains clear: there will be more “clockfusion” before that day arrives.