Ready to spring forward? That cute mnemonic device we use to remember to set our clocks ahead sounds so positive and energetic, but it feels the opposite. The benefits of daylight savings time are few, if any, and the costs are high. Do we really still need it?
Our bodies are finely tuned to respond to cycles of light and dark. There’s truth in the adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The facts are these: getting enough sleep is important for physical health, helps you be more productive (leading to wealth) and even affects your ability to learn and remember (making you wise). When the phrase was coined, people didn’t know the mechanisms by which it worked, but they certainly could observe the results.
When we switch on and off of daylight savings time, we take an already-artificial construct (time) and make it more artificial. Our bodies are telling us one thing – it’s time for dinner, or it’s not time to get up – and the clock is forcing us to do something else. Even without daylight savings time, most of us suffer from what’s called social jet lag, a disharmony between our internal clocks and our daily schedules that causes chronic sleep deprivation, contributing to obesity, increases in smoking and higher alcohol consumption. We’re all sleepy when we need to work and wakeful when we want to sleep.
Monday mornings are consistently the peak time of the week for hospitals to see people come in with heart attacks, probably because of the early morning rise in stress hormones combined with the dread of starting the work week. But on the Monday after we switch to daylight savings time, that incidence of heart attacks goes up by 10%. Accidents of all kinds also increase for the first few days after the time change (in either direction).
Benefits of daylight savings time: not too many. Although it was touted for years as a way to save energy, the savings is really only about 1%. Let’s face it, we live
in a 24/7 world and if the lights aren’t on in the evening, they’ll be on in the morning instead. Gasoline consumption actually goes up during daylight savings time because we go more places after work.
Is it nice to be outdoors in the evenings during the nice weather? Of course! It might even help people get more exercise if they go out for a walk, or play a game of softball after work. But I’ve found in my house that everything gets later during daylight savings time. The bright sunlight makes it seem too early to make dinner, so dinner starts shifting to 8 or 8:30. That makes bedtime later. But we still have to get up for work, so sleep is what is sacrificed.
I don’t see any groundswell of opposition to DST, though, so I think it will be with us for the foreseeable future. Just be aware for the next few days that none of us will be operating at 100%. It will take most of the week to have our bodies adjust, so don’t jump out of bed too quickly in the morning – take a moment to breathe deeply before you start the day. Pay more attention on the road and be mindful in the kitchen to avoid accidents. Get plenty of sunlight during the middle of the day, even if it’s just by looking out the window.
Above all, listen to what your body tells you it needs. As Golda Meir said, “I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.”