Health Effects of Daylight Savings Time

When Benjamin Franklin fretted about people burning too many candles at night and then sleeping past dawn the next morning, he was concerned with the waste of precious daylight hours.

So in typical Franklin form, he came up with an idea: daylight saving time (DST).

It wasn’t until World War I, however, that the plan was set into motion as a way to conserve fuel by utilizing daylight with greater efficiency.

While most people in United States (with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii) and many countries around the world look forward to the extension of DST (beginning March 13 in the U.S. in 2016), they may expect some health-related aftereffects-both good and bad.

On the plus side of DST health effects is the fact that an increase in sunlight hours helps relieve depression in some people (particularly those with seasonal affective disorder). Additionally, those extra hours may offer some small assistance in the fight against obesity, due to a tendency for people to get out and exercise more in daylight hours.

Wayne Andersen, MD, medical director of Take Shape for Life, has said that fitness levels tend to rise with the longer hours of daylight. Of similar importance is the fact that additional exposure to sunlight means a greater absorption of vitamin D.

The Ill Effects

The ill effects of DST, however, may be a bit more concerning.

The adjustment of daylight hours can play havoc with the circadian clock, causing some people to experience heightened sleep disturbances.

A Finnish study found it goes especially hard with self-avowed “night owls.” While most people can adjust in a week’s time, it has been considered so problematic for the people of Kazakhstan that the country’s government abolished the practice a decade ago, citing negative health effects.

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Emergency departments are likely to see an uptick in their census during the first week of DST.

According to a Swedish study cited in U.S. News & World Report, heart attacks spike during the critical first 3 days after the clocks change. The investigators believe the loss of an hour of sleep make some people more susceptible to cardiovascular events.

An article on also mentions that studies have shown that losing an hour of sleep results in groggy, tired people given to stress-which may also be a contributor to the increased risk of heart attacks, targeting the first Monday of DST as the riskiest day. “Risky Monday” and its associated tiredness have been blamed for decreased concentration, overall lack of productivity and more car crashes.

And Then Again .

However, there is a flip side to some of these concerns. Throughout the remainder of DST, car accidents actually decrease. According to U.S. News & World Report, “People are safer drivers in daylight hours, and researchers have found that DST reduces lethal car crashes and pedestrian strikes. In fact, a study concluded that observing DST year-round would annually prevent about 195 deaths of motor vehicle occupants and about 171 pedestrian fatalities.”

Furthermore, when the world “falls back” to standard time in the autumn, those troubling heart attack rates actually decrease and briefly drop below normal levels, thanks to that extra hour of sleep.

Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact:[email protected]

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