Until now, I thought the two worst things about daylight savings were the heartbreaking task of robbing yourself of an hours sleep once a year and even worse, the biting social embarrassment of trying to explain how the whole thing works in front of your friends.
“Okay so we’re going into Winter, which means it’s getting darker… earlier? So we want more time in the day. Yep. So we put the clock an hour later, so 6pm becomes 7pm. Right? Oh wait, no. That’ll make it darker. Okay wait… so… hmm”
But it turns out there are far worse consequences than social embarrassment – namely, well, death.
When daylight savings messes with our sleep schedule, otherwise known as our circadian clock, some weird stuff starts happening. In the days after daylight savings kicks in, studies have found that everything from car accidents, strokes and heart attacks spike. A 2016 study found that two days after daylight savings kicked in, the rate of stroke went up by 8% in the general population, while cancer victims had a 25% greater chance of a stroke and people older than 65 were 25% more likely to have a stroke. It doesn’t end there – judges even doled out longer and harsher sentences when they were sleep deprived after daylight savings. They might even increase the risk of suicide in vulnerable people. It’s also been found that in America the loss of sleep costs the economy $434 million a year in lost productivity.
All this carnage from one measly hour difference?
The thing is, while daylight savings may be a mere hour shift, it affects millions of people in nations all around the world simultaneously twice a year. Researchers have found that it translates into roughly 40 minutes less sleep the following night. Because the world is already running on less sleep than we should, it means this tiny shift creates large ripples.
So it is time to scrap the idea altogether? Benjamin Franklin apparently first suggested the idea before it was codified during the First World War to save energy. But studies show that there is pretty much no difference in the amount of energy used – in fact, it might even be greater.
Nowadays, its primary purpose is to inject an extra hour of sunlight into the dark, wintery days. While we might suffer for a few days as our bodies are dragged into daylight savings time, we reap the benefits of daylight savings for the next eight months. More sunlight means more people exercising, socialising and all the benefits to physical and mental health benefits that are associated. If you want some stats to back it up, some studies have shown that despite the initial spike in traffic accidents, daylight savings reduces traffic accidents over daylight savings because people are much more alert in the extra hour of daylight. There’s also a dip in robberies and crime that comes with the extra sunlight.
At the moment, there is little appetite to change daylight savings. So love it or hate it, it’s probably here to stay. So how can we enjoy the extra sunlight without, you know, dropping dead from a heart attack?
The main thing to reduce your risk of detrimental health effects is to make sure you get a good night sleep the night daylight savings kicks in. Add an extra 40 minutes to your sleep-in or take a nap the afternoon before. It also helps if you exercise a few hours before you hit the sack, and limit light when you do turn off the lights. As best you can, stay away from alcohol and drugs too for a few days.
And explaining it to your friends and family? Well, you’re out of luck I can’t help you there. I’ll leave that one to YouTube.