by: Lamis Abdelaziz

Photo source: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/daylight-saving-time-is-ending/

Twice a year, we all dance with time. But, as the clocks spring forward and fall back, have you ever wondered how Daylight Saving Time (DST) not only affects your work schedule but also your biological clock and health? This temporal tango has more significant implications than you may think. This seemingly harmless act of adjusting the time disrupts your circadian rhythms, impacting your sleep quality, mental alertness, and even your overall health. 

Circadian rhythms are the body’s internal timekeepers, naturally attuned to the day-night cycle. They orchestrate a 24-hour cycle of essential functions. Guided by environmental cues, primarily light, they synchronize processes like alertness, sleep, appetite, and body temperature. When the sun rises, our internal clock promotes alertness, while as night falls, it triggers melatonin production, inducing sleep and maintaining rest through the night. This rhythmic balance creates a reliable cycle of restorative sleep, priming us for daytime activities. (Suni and Singh, 2023)

Our circadian rhythm is crucial to homeostasis, keeping our body balanced and healthy. Due to this, it is vital we try to align our sleep-wake cycle with the sun’s clock as the amount and time of day we are exposed to sunlight influence our circadian rhythm. This is exactly what is disrupted by DST (Medicine, 2021).  Unfavourable exposure ratios of evening and daylight affects alertness and messes with our sleep schedule  (Coulson, 2023). Thus, the spring shift leads to potential health issues in the cardiovascular system and affects one’s mental well-being and cognitive performance (Coulson, 2023). Ideally, we should have sunrise close to our waking time to help reset our internal clocks and stay in sync with the natural day-night cycle (Aziz, 2021).

Jetlag draws a wonderful parallel to the effects of DST. Our bodies expect our initial time zone yet we’re following our destination’s time zone, which also upsets the body’s circadian rhythm. The consequences of this disruption and the phenomenon of “social jetlag” have been associated with mental and physical exhaustion, insomnia, and disruptions in metabolism and eating patterns causing obesity and diabetes (Aziz, 2021). And for those already suffering from any of the aforementioned health problems, DST can exacerbate their severity (Medicine, 2021). However, the most severe outcome of circadian rhythm disruptions is their impact on the heart and blood vessels, resulting from disturbances in stress hormone balance and blood pressure.  (Crouch, 2022). This increases the stakes of heart attacks and strokes (Crouch, 2022). Just as jetlag leaves us disoriented and fatigued, DST can similarly unsettle our bodies’ natural rhythms, leading to a range of health issues. 

As we explore the repercussions of Daylight Saving Time (DST), a striking picture emerges. This temporal adjustment significantly affects our daily routines, starting with our sleep. Sleep deprivation significantly impairs decision-making and propels risky choices and errors (Crouch, 2022). Often more medical mistakes, workplace injuries, and car accidents surge after the springtime clock adjustment (Crouch, 2022). For instance, a study discovered a six percent increase in fatal car crashes the week following the springtime shift, with circadian misalignment and sleep deprivation as the likely culprits (Crouch, 2022).

Furthermore, the effects of sleep deprivation during this period are not limited to cognitive impairments and increased risk of accidents. The disruption in sleep patterns, just like circadian rhythms, also takes a toll on our eating habits and mood regulation, leading to a cascade of adverse consequences. For example, sleep loss can trigger increased hunger, leading to overeating, particularly during the week after the time change (Crouch, 2022). Sleep-deprivation-induced hormonal fluctuations boost appetite and reduce satisfaction after meals, often driving individuals to opt for unhealthy, high-fat, or sugary foods (Crouch, 2022). Sleep-deprived individuals are prone to making less healthy food choices. Additionally, sleep deprivation disrupts mood regulation, making individuals more irritable and impatient (Crouch, 2022). Even judges may exhibit mood swings, doling out harsher sentences in the days immediately following daylight saving time’s start (Crouch, 2022)

So should we abandon DST? The question of whether to abolish DST is a hot debate topic. Critics argue that it should be replaced with a year-round standard time that aligns better with our natural circadian rhythms, offering potential health and safety advantages. Proponents of DST point to its global adoption by over 70 countries, emphasizing energy savings, cost reduction, and environmental benefits. Additionally, some studies suggest that crime rates decrease during DST, primarily due to extended daylight hours. (Pacheco & Rehman, 2023)

However, while Daylight Saving Time offers the benefit of extended daylight for various activities, it comes with a cost. The short-term effects of Daylight Saving Time disruptions typically last a few days, but they can lead to chronic effects that persist well beyond the initial weeks following the switch (Aziz, 2021). Certain studies propose that the human body may never completely adjust to Daylight Saving Time (DST) (Pacheco & Rehman, 2023). Furthermore, the fall transition to standard time presents its own set of challenges, such as reduced evening activity and an increased risk of depression due to decreased daylight exposure (Aziz, 2021).

But why should we go through all of these unnecessary troubles for something that may not be worth it? If we adopt a permanent standard time, our internal clocks will more likely be in sync with the sun clock and our sleep homeostasis won’t be threatened. Even the Canadian Society for Chronobiology recommends adopting year-round standard time while asserting that the worst decision the government could make is to switch to year-round daylight time, as it would result in a state of “permanent jetlag” (Aziz, 2021).

In conclusion, as we contemplate the value of Daylight Saving Time, it’s crucial to recognize that our lives are governed not only by the ticking hands of the clock but also by the biological rhythms that influence our overall well-being. Beyond the well-known disruptions, DST raises new questions about the intricate relationship between our internal clocks and the external world. It prompts us to consider how we can better align our daily routines with the natural cycles of light and dark, thereby optimizing our physical and mental health.

In an era where sleep quality and mental health are at the forefront of public awareness, the notion of perpetually shifting our clocks may no longer serve our best interests. As we look to the future, there is an opportunity to identify alternative ways not to burden our bodies by changing time. Doing so could foster a healthier and more peaceful attitude towards biological rhythms of waking and sleeping with benefits only waiting to be uncovered. On that note, one can wonder if it might be time for us to move on from DST towards a more subtle but still biologically founded relationship with time.

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