As most Americans gear up to reset their clocks this weekend, a consortium of doctors and researchers just asked the question on all of our minds: “Why are we still doing this again?”
The health concerns with daylight saving time.
Last year, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released a statement requesting an end to daylight saving in favor of a “national, fixed, year-round time.”
Their call to stop the decades-old practice in the U.S. comes during a year when the suddenly earlier sunset will feel even more dreary because of COVID restrictions. A handful of states across multiple time zones—from California to Oregon to Arkansas to Tennessee—are also talking about nixing it.
The AASM argues that the negative health effects of the twice-annual clock adjustment far outweigh its benefits. “An abundance of accumulated evidence indicates that the acute transition from standard time to daylight saving time incurs significant public health and safety risks,” the statement reads.
They write that the spring-forward has been linked with a temporary increase in heart attack and stroke, and both the setting forward and backward of clocks seem to cause higher rates of sleep issues, mood disturbances, and suicide (not to mention, more car crashes and missed appointments). Another recent report published in PLOS Computational Biology estimates that each spring clock shift can be associated with up to 880,000 “negative health effects” globally, and 150,000 in the U.S.
A lot of this comes down to the way that daylight saving affects our circadian rhythm. It may not seem like a lot, but setting the time back an hour is enough to confuse our body’s internal clock. The resulting circadian misalignment has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. And while you may assume that this blip passes in a few days, there is some research suggesting its effects can last months.
“It’s a misalignment of your biological rhythms, or circadian rhythms, for eight months out of the year,” Beth Malow, M.D., a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, tells Scientific American of daylight saving.
Time to move forward into a new system?
Considering all the new research on the importance of sleep—and the fact that one in three Americans don’t get enough of it as it is—the AASM says it’s past time to get rid of daylight saving altogether.
Internal medicine doctor Eva Selhub, M.D., agrees: “I do wish they would stop the time-change process since it is not necessary from an agricultural point of view,” she tells mbg. (It’s true: The time change was never actually meant to help farmers as much as it was to reduce energy bills.) “It does increase irritability, cortisol/circadian changes, and as the [AASM] article points out, increased risks for other health issues.”
If we do end up getting rid of it, there’s some debate as to whether we should switch over to permanent daylight saving time or permanent standard time. Ultimately, any move to a new time system requires legislative approval by the U.S. Congress, so we might be waiting a while.
Until then, here are some tips for getting through the next—and maybe, possibly last?—clock reset:
Tips for the clock change this weekend.
Family medicine physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., recommends prepping your system for Sunday’s change by going to bed early on Saturday.
“Often, people think they have ‘extra’ time, so they go to bed later, and that can cause you to be groggy and offset your routine,” she says. “I encourage patients to be in bed by 10 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. if their schedule allows.”
Moving forward into next week, she says to stay on top of your sleep hygiene and circadian rhythm regulation: Try to avoid screens and bright lights too close to bedtime and get some sunshine first thing in the morning if you can.
While we may not be saying lights out to this tradition yet, at least we can all celebrate one thing: It’s officially candle season.