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DST Is Here Again

This coming Sunday, March 10th, our clocks “spring forward,” as we move into Daylight Saving Time (DST) . This sudden time change can result in increased health issues including heart attacks, strokes, and mood disorders, and more accidents and injuries for several days after it occurs. As a matter of fact, the incidences of serious car crashes increase by 6% during this time period.

Daylight Saving Time was first implemented in the US during WWI when it was necessary to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power. It was brought back again during WWII, but it was never a popular idea. Afterward, it was a local option, which meant there was no uniformity, and millions of Americans were observing it according to local customs. In 1966 Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which standardized Daylight Saving Time. Individual states could opt out by passing their own laws. Currently, Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that do not implement Daylight Saving Time.

The goal of Daylight Saving Time was to reduce electricity demand by extending sunlight deeper into the evening hours. It was intended to conserve artificial energy by making better use of natural light. If summer sunlight lasts longer into the evening, it’s one less hour of darkness that will need to be lit, cooled, or heated. Contrary to popular belief, DST was not created for the agriculture industry to offer more daylight hours to work in the field. In fact, the agriculture industry lobbied against DST because it caused them to lose an extra hour of light in the morning, which meant they had to rush their crops to market.

With modern technology, DST is mostly unnecessary and presents its own problems to our modern world. Switching to Daylight Saving Time has been shown to cause disruptions to the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. It can result in interrupted sleep patterns as the body tries to adjust to the change in its normal cycle. This sleep deprivation can lead to delayed reaction times, poor attention, and unsafe judgement calls. Yet, though we’re getting less sleep, we’re still called upon to operate normally. This is especially problematic when we’re driving.  The resulting fatigue impairs motor skills and performance similar to being intoxicated!

According to the American Academy of Neurology, spring is a more difficult transition than fall. While some people adjust fairly quickly to Daylight Saving Time, others find it more difficult. But there are things you can do in advance to help minimize the impact of the time change.

Health experts recommend preparing for DST several days beforehand.

  • Go to bed and get up earlier before the day arrives. Start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier and rising 15 minutes earlier. Increase that time each day by 15-minute increments until you’re ready for the hour change.
  • Gradually change the time of your activities—like meals and exercise—as well.
  • You can also provide your body with a visual cue by gradually changing the time on your wristwatch.
  • Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep before the time change. If you’re getting 8 hours of sleep a night, you’re not going to notice an hour less as much. In addition, you can bank your sleep the days before so you’re well-rested before you have to deal with an hour less of sleep.
  • The night of the time change, adjust your clocks fully before you go to bed.

After the time change, there are also things you can do to help your quantity and quality of sleep.

  • Have a regular sleep schedule. Aim for 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Avoid caffeine at least 6 – 8 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid naps. You want to teach your body to sleep at night. If you must take a nap, keep it to under 30 minutes. And don’t take a nap too late in the day, as it may interfere with your night sleep.
  • Avoid exercising too late, as it can hinder a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat dinner 3 – 4 hours before bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime can make it tough to fall asleep, as your body is focused on digesting food. In addition, don’t consume heavy, spicy food in the evening.
  • Dim your lights as you get closer to bedtime and avoid bright lights from TV’s phones and laptops during the hour before going to bed.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Block unwanted noise and light in your bedroom and use a sleep mask and earplugs if necessary.
  • Keep your room cool.
  • Sleep on a supportive mattress with comfortable bedding.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, try relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and soothing music.
  • Expose your body to bright light immediately upon rising. Sunshine is particularly good, as it has a potent effect on the body’s internal clock. Even on cloudy days, natural light provides more of the illumination that works to align the circadian rhythm than artificial indoor light does. Try to get 15 minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning.

After the time change, avoid long hours of driving—and the dangers of driving drowsy. Even if you don’t find the time change bothersome, be aware of your increased risk of encountering a drowsy driver during the first few days of Daylight Saving Time. Also, be aware that a study found that more motor vehicle crashes happen in the mornings after the time change and in the westernmost portion of a particular time zone.

Because of this disruption, many people doubt the usefulness of Daylight Saving Time. If you are one of those people, you might be happy to know that there is legislation in the works for permanently making Daylight Saving Time the new standard time. In the last few years, close to 20 states have enacted such legislation, but the changes can’t be implemented until federal laws are changed to authorize it. The Senate unanimously approved a bill called the Sunshine Protection Act in 2022 which would permanently extend Daylight Saving Time for the entire year. The bill has yet to be passed by the House of Representatives and then be signed into law by the President.  

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