Some physicians call Daylight Saving Time a health burden

By Mariah Quintanilla

Twice a year, Americans enter a government-instituted time warp. Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends this Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 a.m., and we will collectively rejoice in an extra hour of precious, precious sleep as clocks “fall back.” Come March, however, that hour is “lost” once again and many of us may suffer negative health consequences from the abrupt shift in our sleep cycles.

DST was first adopted by Germany in 1916 and later by many other countries in the Northern Hemisphere  to maximize daylight and conserve energy. Though the costs and benefits of DST are still hotly debated, many U.S. doctors and researchers agree that disrupting our sleep cycles during DST can throw people into a short-term spiral of adverse health effects.

“Any time there is a [disruption] in bed times it can throw off people’s energy and concentration” throughout the day, said Dr. Andy Bernstein, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Several studies document a slight increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the days following the spring DST.

“[The adverse health effects] disappear for the most part once people start adjusting,” added Bernstein. But DST affects some more than others.

People with seasonal affective disorder — a mood disorder that people usually experience during the darker winter months—may feel worse after the fall time change, said Berstein.  People who suffer from depression may feel the same effects.

But Lawrence Jin, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University with an interest in behavioral and health economics noticed no change in people when analyzing hospital admissions during DST in Germany over a decade. He observed that hospital admission rates after the fall and spring DST’s actually did not differ from the norm.

Overall, the data he analyzed revealed no significant negative health effects due to DST. “In the spring, people don’t sleep [any] less,” said Jin.

But Jin acknowledges in his study that most people are not checking into hospitals for minor symptoms relating to a loss of sleep. He said his study merely adds to the continuing research surrounding the health effects of DST.

Another study conducted with 35 high school students last year  found, however,  that in the weeks folllowing the DST spring shift, the students were significantly less alert, demonstrated longer reaction times and felt sleepier during the day. Study authors argue in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that more studies on our health are needed in order to assess the overall impact of DST.

Despite the potential negative health effects,  Chicagoans might consider DST a blessing in July. Instead of waking with the sun at 4:30 a.m., the sunrise is reset to 5:30 —a more reasonable time to prepare for a long day of sunbathing at the lake.

Photo at top: Picture of a clock. (From obpia30/Pixabay)