On today’s episode of The 5Things podcast” daylight saving time has been around since WWI when officials were trying to conserve coal for the war effort. More than a century later, is it still needed ?
Host Claire Thornton is joined by USA TODAY health reporter Adrianna Rodriguez to discuss the negative impacts of daylight savings.
Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.
Claire Thornton: Hey there, I’m Claire Thornton, and this is 5 Things. It’s Sunday, November 7th. These Sunday episodes are special. We’re bringing you more from in-depth stories you may have already heard.
In most of the United States, daylight savings time just ended. If you haven’t yet, set your clocks back one hour. The Department of Transportation says daylight savings time conserves energy, prevents traffic accidents and reduces crime. But sleep experts say the health consequences of our sleep being disrupted by daylight savings time, outweigh any benefits.
All right, so I’m joined by health reporter, Adrianna Rodriguez. Thank you so much for being here.
Adrianna Rodrig…: Thank you for having me.
Claire Thornton: So remind me, what is the definition of daylight saving time? Who’s responsible for making sure that we keep doing daylight saving time, and when did daylight saving time even start?
Adrianna Rodrig…: Daylight saving time is that really annoying part of the year in the spring, it’s usually lands on the second Sunday of March where we have to spring forward, as they say, and so we sort of lose an hour of sleep. And then that continues on until the first Sunday of November.
It was first enacted by the Federal Government during World War I as a way to conserve coal, but now the Department of Transportation is in charge of it and says that it reduces crime, and reduces traffic accidents, and it also saves energy.
Claire Thornton: And why do they say that?
Adrianna Rodrig…: There are studies that show that it does do that. It does reduce crime. It does save energy and it prevents traffic accidents in certain parts of the year. So, I would argue, there are studies that show that right after the switch happens, there’s actually an increase of traffic accidents, but then after that, because it increases daylight hours towards the end of the day, it decreases traffic accidents that way. And also because it increases daylight towards the end of the day, it also decreases other things like having to turn your lights on, and having to do stuff like that, and just using natural sunlight. And the same thing impose with crime. I would say crime happens more so often during nighttime. And so when there’s less darkness and there’s more light, there’s less crime.
Claire Thornton: Okay. So we’ll get more into the details later. You reported that that may not necessarily be true throughout the past, like, 100 years. What have been some different reasons why we’ve kept daylight saving time around, besides the World War I original reason.
Adrianna Rodrig…: I’m not entirely sure. I feel like it was for different sorts of things. We had it for certain wars, and then we let go of it, and then we brought it back, and then some states were having it, and some states weren’t, and so finally the Department of Transportation was like, this is crazy, we need everybody to be on same wavelength. And so they enacted a law that made everybody have to switch to daylight saving time during a certain time, although they also had a choice to opt out of it. And as you know, there are some states and territories that have opt out of it and are in an annual, permanent standard time.
Claire Thornton: Yeah, we’ll get to that later. So you report that the biggest impact by far of daylight saving time, is the impact it has on our sleep. Tell us more about the impact it has on our sleep.
Adrianna Rodrig…: Sure. So the most obvious answer to that question is that we quote unquote, lose an hour of sleep. Instead of waking up at 8:00 AM, we’re waking up at an hour that our body says is 7:00 AM, but the clock now says is 8:00 AM, right? But it’s a little more complicated than that, and that’s because of our circadian rhythm.
So everyone has this circadian clock, which is an internal clock that tells us when to go to sleep and when to wake up. And it runs at approximately 24 hours, hence why we have a full 24 hours in a full day. And then there’s this quote unquote, master clock in our brain, that tells us when to go to sleep and when to wake up. So when it’s time to go to sleep, the body produces melatonin, which is also called a sleep hormone to help us feel sleepy, and when it’s time to wake up, the body blocks that production. That’s the whole sleep mechanism there. But then there is not only the master clock in the brain, there’s also a circadian clock within every single cell of our body. So when this gets out of whack, that’s when we start seeing the health problems, because cells affect every single part and function of our bodies.
Claire Thornton: That makes me so upset to think about. What are the benefits of daylight saving time supposed to be? It seems like there are actually all these negative effects. What are the benefits supposed to be?
Adrianna Rodrig…: The negative benefits isn’t towards daylight saving time per se, it’s the switch that we have. So, that switch, that abrupt switch from sleeping schedule, is where the majority of the negative health consequences come from. There’s a debate whether we want to be on permanent standard time, or we want to be on permanent daylight saving time. Some people say that maybe a permanent daylight saving time is better, and some people say maybe a permanent standard time is better. There are studies and other research papers that show that there are benefits of a permanent daylight saving time. And then of course are other studies and organizations that say a permanent standard time is better.
Claire Thornton: And not all parts of the US observe daylight savings time. Which parts of the US have said, we’re not going to do this?
Adrianna Rodrig…: Right. So some states and territories had the option of opting out of daylight saving time, and so they’re the ones that are on standard time permanently. This is practiced in Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Claire Thornton: So sleep interruption, poor sleep, and lack of sleep cause so many negative physical effects. It’s horrible. Tell us what happens to our bodies around the time that that switch occurs, and we switch our clocks to daylight saving time.
Adrianna Rodrig…: So in order to understand what happens to our bodies in the switch, we have to really understand why sleep is so important, because ultimately this switch is affecting sleep. Sleep is necessary for the body to heal and repair heart and blood vessels, whereas lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Studies have shown that the switch to DST has also been linked to an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and cancer. And again, that’s because when your circadian rhythm is out of whack, every single cell is involved. So that’s the physical effects of it.
Claire Thornton: What about the mental effects?
Adrianna Rodrig…: So sleep has been shown to improve cognitive functions, like learning, problem solving skills, decision-making, and creativity. So that means that insufficient sleep causes inattention, poor focusing and inability to monitor behavior. People who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to take risk, because it’s harder for them to perceive consequences, and getting a good night rest is also important for regulating emotions. So sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder and suicide. And with all these cognitive consequences, prior we said, one of the reasons the Department of Transportation says it keeps daylight saving time around, is because of the decrease in traffic accidents. But studies have shown that traffic accidents tend to increase in the first few days after the switch to daylight savings time, and that’s mostly been and attributed to the fact that you can’t focus, that inability to focus because you’re so sleepy. And also the likelihood of taking more risk, because you can’t perceive the consequences of, let’s say, that right turn or left turn.
Claire Thornton: Yeah. Regarding the effect it has on our ability to focus, that means that it affects students a lot, right? What did you report on that?
Adrianna Rodrig…: Absolutely. So all these cognitive consequences of lack of sleep, tend to hit students really hard. They need that focus to pay attention in school and not just pay attention in school, but also retain that information, because you’re going to school to learn. You need to retain that information for test taking and just general learning.
But within students, it impacts a certain age group, and it really impacts teenagers the most, because during your teenage years, your circadian rhythm lags behind when it normally runs. This is why teens like to go to bed later and sleep in the next day. So studies have shown throwing in an interruption to their already interrupted sleep schedule, has had negative effects on their standardized testing scores, specifically the SATs. One would argue, this is one of the most academically important points in a young person’s life, and when you throw in the fact that they’re just naturally late in their circadian clock, they’re up at all hours of the night doing homework, they have to get up at an impossibly early time to go to school. And then you throw in daylight savings time, or at least specifically the switch, the transition and that abrupt interruption to their sleep schedule. That’s what impacts them academically.
Claire Thornton: Yeah. It’s crazy to me how, when you think about it, that switch into spring, happens in the second week of March and that’s when midterms are, or that’s when you start gearing up for finals, and having that huge shift at that time just seems so horrible. In 2021, what are experts saying should be done regarding daylight savings time? Do they think that we should do away with it altogether, given these negative effects?
Adrianna Rodrig…: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine came out in 2020 specifically and said, we should do away with, not just the switch to daylight saving time, but daylight saving time altogether. They want a permanent standard time. But as you can see and if we talked about with other states, there’s this debate between a permanent standard time or a permanent daylight saving time. But everybody is pretty much an agreement that the switch sucks. We shouldn’t be transitioning between two different times at two different points of the year. It’s really abrupt to your sleep schedule. It’s really abrupt to your health, obviously. We’ve seen this association with long-term health consequences, both physical and mental. And so most health experts are in agreement that the transition itself shouldn’t exist, but between the standard time or the daylight saving time, that’s still the debate.
Claire Thornton: Wow. Well, Adrianna, thank you so much for being here. I think we can leave it at that.
Adrianna Rodrig…: Thank you so much.
Claire Thornton: You can read Adrianna’s full story on the negative health effects of daylight savings time at the link I’ve included in the episode notes.
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