Although you might think that changing the clocks twice a year is a tradition that began in the agricultural world, the idea that farmers were in favor of Daylight Saving Time is actually false. In fact, most Americans have been and still are pretty opposed to the idea, with 63% of residents saying they’d like to do away with seasonal time changes and opt for a nationwide year-round timeclock instead. Still, unless you live in Hawaii or Arizona, you’ll probably have to lose an hour of sleep this upcoming weekend thanks to DST. But while it might seem like nothing more than an annoying convention, this time change can actually have some potentially deadly consequences. As we prepare to “spring forward,” it might be worthwhile to learn a bit more about the dangers of doing so — and learn how to protect your well-being as we adjust to additional daylight hours.
The Dangers of Springing Forward
The upside of Daylight Saving Time is that we get to enjoy our time in the sun. Of course, the drawback is that we’ll effectively lose an hour of sleep. You might assume that an extra cup of coffee will do the trick, but the reality is that sleep deprivation can be incredibly hazardous.
The first night DST takes place, the average adult loses anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour of actual sleep. But even a week or more after the shift, data shows it’s much harder to fall and stay asleep. This won’t merely make you a little groggy for a few days; data shows that sleep deprivation can increase the rate of mood disorders, cardiovascular episodes, and other health issues that may be exacerbated by poor sleep (such as migraines). Additionally, loss of sleep can cause irritability, loss of focus, and poor eating habits. It’s not surprising that Idaho potato supporters once lobbied in favor of DST; because fast-food french fry sales increased so significantly after the change, it would certainly be to their advantage to continue with seasonal time changes! But if you’re trying to curb your quarantine junk food habit, DST can cause a dietary disaster. DST data has also shown that adverse medical events related to human error (like surgical mistakes) and fatal traffic accidents both increase in the week following Daylight Saving Time.
In other words, DST can be hazardous to your health. But since we currently do have to deal with it, how can you reduce these risks?
How to Combat the Clock
Although there may be hope for state or even federal bills that would do away with Daylight Saving Time, we can’t be late for every meeting for half the year in the meantime. To curb the potential health effects of DST, here’s what experts recommend.
- Stay Home and Lay Low: The clocks will change at 2 AM on Sunday, March 14. If you have the option to take it easy that day, most professionals would recommend you do so. Nearly 50,000 Americans die on U.S. highways each year, but fatal car accidents tend to surge during the week after we change our clocks. One positive development about the pandemic shift to remote work is that there will likely be fewer commuters on the roads this year. If you have the option to work from home next week, it might be a good idea to do so. Avoiding unnecessary outings is a good idea anyway, given that COVID-19 is still a threat.
- Resist the Urge to Nap: If you’re feeling groggy on Sunday, that’s normal. But try to avoid napping if you can. Although you need at least one full rest day after three consecutive days of exercise, that doesn’t mean you should sleep away the day. Napping can make it much harder for your body to get back on track. Sleeping during the day will generally make things worse for yourself at night. If you can’t keep your eyes open, limit your nap to around 20 minutes at most.
- Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Really, one of the best things you can do leading up to and following the time change is to maintain your sleep schedule. That may mean you need to start going to bed a bit earlier to prepare or to help your body’s circadian rhythms reset. Turn off any blue light-emitting devices, keep your bedroom set to the optimal temperature range of 60 to 72 degrees, and put clean sheets and pillowcases on your bed. Heading to bed at roughly the same time each night will help you adjust more quickly.
- Spend Time Outside: With more daylight hours to experience, you’ll want to take advantage of them! Spending time outside during the day can help you acclimate to this new schedule, get some much-needed vitamin D, and generally help you relieve stress and anxiety (which will make it easier to sleep at night). Taking a walk around the neighborhood or a trip to your local hiking trail can also give you more energy during the day and allow you to actually feel tired when it’s time for bed. Plus, it gives you an excuse to get out and enjoy the nice weather!
As much as many of us would like to forget Daylight Saving Time exists, it’s a necessary evil for most Americans. Until or unless it’s abolished, these tips can make the time change a bit more bearable — and a lot less dangerous.