Our yearly bout of near-universal sleep deprivation is almost here: daylight saving time (DST) starts on Sunday, March 8 (and yes, it’s “saving,” not “savings”). Those of us in places who observe the “spring ahead, fall back” tradition—and if you’re in most of Saskatchewan or pockets of B.C., Ontario, Quebec, or Nunavut you’re off the hook—dread this change, characterized by stumbling around sleepily as we desperately try to make up that lost hour of slumber.
Daylight saving time started in Germany during the First World War as an effort to save coal—the thinking being that reduced use of artificial light in the evening would make up for the increased use in the morning. The idea caught on and was adopted widely, and it worked—then.
Now, though, more and more experts are weighing in with data that suggest that the reasons for observing DST are not only outdated; they’re ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Turning the clocks forward doesn’t really save energy
One study that was conducted in Indiana—which only adopted state-wide DST in 2006—found that, contrary to expectations, energy use increased slightly as a result of moving the clocks forward, due to the heavier use of air conditioners in the evening. Other studies have indicated that yes, energy is saved—but use is only reduced by one per cent during March and April. Regardless, it would appear that the savings, if any, are negligible. Plus gasoline consumption goes up—something that wasn’t a concern when DST was first introduced.
DST doesn’t really cut traffic accidents
Think that increased evening daylight will cut traffic accidents by making it easy to see? Not exactly. While it’s true that the switch to standard time in the fall coincides with an increase in accidents as drivers adjust to lower light levels, there’s also a spike in accidents immediately following the spring time shift, which experts think is due to everyone being just slightly sleepier than usual. Whatever the reason, time shifts one way or the other aren’t great for drivers or pedestrians.
It’s not great for our health
A 2012 study showed that there’s a 10 percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday and Tuesday following the shift to DST—and while there’s no hard data explaining the phenomenon, theories suggest a disruption in circadian rhythm, sleep deprivation, or an immune response as the possible causes. Interestingly, the risk of heart attack falls by 10 percent following the shift back to standard time. In Australia, researchers have found that DST coincides with an uptick in suicide rates.
DST is just plain inconvenient—and unpopular
TV schedules shift. Prayer times have to be adjusted. Farm animals don’t adapt well. Schoolkids are sleepy. And not all places make the shift at the same time, causing a month or more of disruption. According to recent polls in the US, 45 percent of adults polled thought the shift to DST was unnecessary, and 19 percent weren’t sure what they thought.
What do you think? Are you tired of losing an hour of sleep every spring? Or do you think it’s a good trade-off for an extra hour of evening daylight during the spring and summer?