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As U.S. prepares to ‘fall back,’ sleep expert says it's time to ditch daylight savings

Daria Minaeva
123rf Stock Photo

This story has been edited.

Get ready to “fall back” this weekend, Standard Time officially begins on Nov. 6.

While that extra hour of sleep may feel nice, an expert with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine argues the yearly time changes do more harm than good.

According to anAssociated Press pollfrom last year, many Americans have become displeased with having to “fall back” and “spring forward” every year while they sleep, yet there’s no consensus as to where the clock swaps stop. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine however argues the next time we change the clocks should be the last time.

Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She said the switch to Daylight Savings time causes the same effects as jet lag which can last well beyond the first week of Daylight Savings.

“What we are dealing with in our society is an epidemic of chronic sleep deprivation, about a third of adults and a third of children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep that they need,” Gurubhagavatula said “So, if you have this background of large numbers of people who are just not getting the sleep they need, and then you take those people and you take another hour away very abruptly, then you set the stage for some pretty serious downstream consequences.”

The use of Daylight Savings Time traces its roots to the Standard Time Act of 1918 when the United States enacted it as a war-time measure to add more daylight hours to the day and conserve energy costs, but the change only lasted for seven months.

The procedure was used again during World War 2 and eventually became codified as a yearly occurrence through the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The law was amended by theEnergy Policy Act of 2005 which set the length of Daylight Savings time to be from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Gurubhagavatula said the loss of sleep can affect activities like driving, which leads to a spike in car crashes after the first days of Daylight Savings time. She also said it can negatively affect our cardiovascular system leading to more issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and abnormal heart rhythms.

A permanent switch to Standard Time, Gurubhagavatula said, would put our clocks more in line with the natural rise and fall of the sun which our bodies use to let us know when to sleep and when to wake up. She said the body secretes melatonin when it gets to signal our brains it’s time to go to sleep.

“Light is delivered exactly when your brain wants to see it in order to have a healthy bedtime and wake-up time that matches all your social and work obligations,” she said. “So, you get light in the morning, and you get to have some darkness at night.”

Some proponents of permanent Daylight Savings Time often say the switch to Standard Time brings with it seasonal depression or a “winter’s blues” due to the darker evenings. Gurubhagavatula said the issues of seasonal depression stem less from the days getting darker and more from a pent-up case of sleep deprivation.

“I think people react because of the sudden change from going from [Daylight Savings Time] to Standard Time,” she said. “If you just stayed on Standard Time year around, then you wouldn't get this abrupt removal of evening light.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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