Oct. 30 (UPI) — For most of the United States, the clock goes back one hour on Sunday morning, the “fall back” for daylight saving time. Many of us appreciate the extra hour of sleep.
But for millions, that gain won’t counter the inadequate sleep they get the rest of the year. About 40% of adults — 50 to 70 million Americans — get less than the recommended minimum seven hours per night.
Some researchers are concerned about how the twice-a-year switch impacts our body’s physiology. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the largest scientific organization that studies sleep, now wants to replace daylight saving time with a move to a year-round fixed time. That way, our internal circadian clocks would not be misaligned for half the year. And it would eliminate the safety risk from sleep loss when transitioning to daylight saving time.
I am a neurologist at the University of Florida. I’ve studied how a lack of sleep can impair the brain. In the 1940s, most American adults averaged 7.9 hours of sleep a night. Today, it’s only 6.9 hours. To put it another way: In 1942, 84% of us got the recommended seven to nine hours; in 2013, it was 59%. To break it down further, a January 2018 study from Fitbit reported that men got even less sleep per night than women, about 6.5 hours.
The case for sleep
Problems from sleep shortage go beyond simply being tired. Compared to those who got enough sleep, adults who are short sleepers — those getting less than seven hours per day — were more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and depression.
Children, who need more sleep than adults, face even more challenges. To promote optimal health, 6- to 12-year-olds should sleep nine to 12 hours a day; teens age 13 to 18, eight to 10 hours. But a Sleep Foundation poll of parents says children are getting at least one hour less than that. And researchers have found that sleep deprivation of even a single hour can harm a child’s developing brain, affecting memory encoding and attentiveness in school.
Sleep impacts every one of our biological systems. Serious consequences can result with poor sleep quality. Here’s a short list: Blood pressure may increase. Risk of coronary heart disease could go up. Our endocrine system releases more cortisol, a stress hormone. We become more aroused by “fight or flight” syndrome. There’s a reduction of growth hormone and muscle maintenance. There’s a higher chance of increased appetite and weight gain. The body has less glucose tolerance and greater insulin resistance; in the long term, that means an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Sleep deprivation is associated with increased inflammation and a decreased number of antibodies to fight infections. It may also cause a decrease in pain tolerance, reaction times and memory. Occupational studies show sleep loss can cause poor work performance, including more days missed and more car accidents.
Turns out, even in the days of limited travel, people can have all the grogginess and crankiness of jet lag without the fun associated with voyaging to a different time zone.
Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, meaning everyone is supposed to set their clocks back one hour. Though Daylight Saving, which starts in March when people typically push clocks ahead one hour, was originally intended as a way to conserve energy and make better use of daylight, some experts said it often feels like more trouble than it’s worth.
It’s nearly that time of the year again: the end of daylight saving, when Americans push their clocks back and rejoice at the gained hour of sleep—or mourn the lost hour of sunlight in the afternoon.
This system’s twice-a-year transitions have become increasingly unpopular. Scientists have been calling attention to the damaging effects of the time changes—which include a general reduction in mental and physical well-being, as well as a potential increased risk of serious complications, such as strokes and heart attacks, soon after the shifts. There is also evidence of increases in traffic fatalities and harmful medical errors shortly following when clocks are moved forward in the spring.
In many countries, this might be the one of the last instances in which people make the adjustment. Governments around the world have been in discussions about scrapping the seasonal clock changes and sticking to one time—either permanent standard time or permanent daylight saving. In the U.S., many states are considering, or have already passed, legislation to adopt one of the two. Hawaii and most of Arizona decided to adopt just standard time more than 50 years ago. Last year the European Parliament voted to abolish the time shifts, but the member states of the European Union have yet to agree on how to implement the decision.
Beth Malow, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, spoke with Scientific American about the health effects of this timekeeping practice and what should replace it.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
The end of daylight saving time is fast approaching. Generally speaking, how disruptive are the transitions to and from daylight saving to physical and mental well-being?
There’s a lot of variability in what people experience. Some people have shared with me that, for example, they might have a child with autism, and for two or three months after the transition, they feel like things are just not right with their child’s sleep. People also tell me they just feel out of sync for a while. Other people may deal with the change more easily. It’s similar to when we travel [from the U.S.] to Europe. Some people are affected by jet lag more than others.
The one thing I will say is that people think, “Well, it’s only an hour, so it’s not a big deal. It’s kind of like traveling from Nashville, [Tenn.], to New York [City]—going from Central to Eastern time.” But [daylight saving] really isn’t that. It’s a misalignment of your biological rhythms, or circadian rhythms, for eight months out of the year.
You wrote a commentary in JAMA Neurology last year that discusses some medical complications—such as cardiovascular problems and stroke—associated with the transitions. Can you talk a bit about how daylight saving changes can increase the risk for these kinds of events?
We don’t know the actual mechanism because these are epidemiological studies, where there are large numbers of people, and [researchers] observe the stroke rate or heart attack rate increase
MASSACHUSETTS — Daylight savings time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, meaning it’s time for the annual ritual of griping about shorter days and watching the sun set before the workday is over.
It’s also prime time to check in on a bill introduced in the Massachusetts legislature in January 2019 that, if passed, would keep Massachusetts permanently in daylight savings time. Co-sponsored by Senator John F. Keenan of Quincy and one of his constituents, Tom Emswiler, the bill would technically move Massachusetts out of the Eastern Time Zone and into the Atlantic Time Zone.
The bill has stalled, in part because the legislature has focused on the coronavirus pandemic this year. But Emswiler thinks the pandemic is reason to reconsider the bill, not an excuse to put it off.
“What better time to consider: Does it really make sense to arbitrarily shift our clocks for four short months?” Emswiler told Boston magazine earlier this month. “We’re already redesigning everything from work and school to weddings and Halloween. Why not commit now to stay on summer time?”
The proposal, which Emswiler has been championing for at least six years, isn’t just about having a little more daylight in the afternoons. Studies show workplace injuries, car crashes, pedestrian fatalities and heart attacks increase immediately when clocks “spring ahead” in March. There’s also a correlation between increased reports of Seasonal Affective Disorder and pushing the clocks back each fall.
About 5 percent of U.S. adults experience SAD each year, but experts worry those numbers will be higher this year with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Social interactions, which can offset the depression that accompanies SAD, are harder to coordinate in the year of social distancing. Add in the stress of trying to work from home, coordinate remote learning, a second wave of coronavirus infections and a chaotic presidential election, and the stress that fuels depression multiplies.
“All of these things that can actually improve our mood are all things that because of the quarantine, we can’t do at all, and having this extra added layer of shifting our clocks back so at 4:00 p.m. it’s dark in the winter makes it even harder to feel motivated to find something to do,” Dr. Eric Zhou, a clinical psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Boston. “So it’s these two elements that go hand-in-hand that might really make mood a major issue for individuals during this fall and winter.”
A commission that studied keeping Massachusetts on daylight savings time voted 9-1 in favor of it in 2017. But the commission said the switch would only work if other northeastern states made the change. Massachusetts is one of more than 30 states that has a bill pending to stay on daylight savings time.
For this year, however, Massachusetts residents will have to deal with dark afternoons, heading up to Dec. 3-12, when the sun will set at 4:11 p.m. in Boston. The days will continue to get shorter after that, with later sunrises, until the winter