Dreading Daylight Saving Time? Here’s Why that Hour Change Throws Us Off So Much

It’s that time of year again: every first Sunday in November, we set our clocks back an hour for Daylight Saving Time (DST). For most people, that extra 60 minutes of sleep is about the only good thing about DST. Otherwise, it’s a signal that winter is coming, the days are getting shorter and the sun is going to start setting at an unreasonably early hour. So, why do we continue to turn our clocks back, and why does it make us feel so crazy?

Daylight Saving Time, explained

First, the why. There’s long been a rumor that Benjamin Franklin invented DST, but that actually stemmed from a joke teasing the French about saving money as a country back in 1784. It wasn’t invented for farmers, either. DST was actually created in the 1880s by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, who wanted more daylight hours during the summertime so he could enjoy more bug hunting (this one’s not a joke).

DST didn’t become official until the 1918 Standard Time Act was introduced during World War I in 1918, in an effort to save energy. Fast forward and we get the 1966 Uniform Time Act, which would officially “promote the adoption and observance of uniform time within the standard time zones.” American states had the option to join or opt out, and today Arizona and Hawaii remain the only two states that do not change their clocks, and observe permanent standard time.

The struggle is real

So, what is it that makes people in the 48 other states so crazy twice a year? It might be just an hour difference, but it can have longer term effects on our minds and bodies. Plainly put, Daylight Saving Time throws our circadian rhythm off, and our biological clocks remain misaligned for an entire eight months of the year.

“When we talk about DST and the relationship to light, we are talking about profound impacts on the biological clock, which is a structure rooted in the brain. It impacts brain functions such as energy levels and alertness,” explains Beth Ann Malow, MD, Burry Chair in Cognitive Childhood Development, and professor of Neurology and Pediatrics in the Sleep Disorders Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

There are a slew of increased risks and even injuries associated with DST, including cerebrovascular and cardiovascular problems. There’s also a higher risk of car accidents from the aforementioned sleep loss. Some evidence shows that the autumn DST change comes along with an increase in crime, as it gets dark so much earlier.

How to combat the DST blues

Sleep loss can have harrowing effects (there’s an increase in car crashes around DST, for example), and is also known to lower immunity, something we must be extra cautious of during a pandemic. It’s always a good idea to practice strong sleep hygiene habits, but especially around DST. This can include avoiding caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bed, and establishing a bedtime routine that helps you unwind every night. During the Daylight Saving transition, do your best to go to bed and wake up at your normal time.

That super-early sunset can also severely impact our moods, resulting in seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – regardless of whether you already suffer from a mood disorder or not. If lack of light in the morning is getting to you, look into getting a sunrise alarm clock. These clocks emit light that helps us wake up more naturally in a non-invasive way. You can also brighten up your space any time of day with a therapeutic light box, a clever gadget that imitates natural outdoor light and can trigger chemical changes in the brain that help lift your mood.

Interested in learning more? Tune into this episode of Margins of Error and see where you land on the debate of states being able to choose to opt in or out of DST. And if you need backup overcoming the literal and figurative darkness ushered in by this weekend’s shift, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for tips and support.