By John Salak –
It’s hard not to look forward to the spring. You’ve got burgeoning greenery, warmer temperatures and seemingly more daylight thanks in part to setting our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time (DST). Sure, we lose an hour’s sleep, but what could that really hurt? Apparently, it may hurt a lot of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who see their clocks go forward every year.
The University of Colorado just reported that fatal traffic accidents spike an average of 6 percent the week after the change. These DST accidents result in about 28 fatalities every year, according to the study’s examination of almost 750,000 accidents over two decades.
“Our study provides additional, rigorous evidence that the switch to daylight saving time in spring leads to negative health and safety impacts,” Celine Vetter, lead author of the Colorado study, explained, “These effects on fatal traffic accidents are real and these deaths can be prevented.”
Sadly, the negative impact apparently doesn’t stop with traffic accidents. A growing number of studies support and even expand on the warnings from Colorado, noting DST correlates to a spike in heart attacks, strokes, workplace accidents and depression, among other problems.
Swedish, Australian, Danish and U.S. studies cite an alarming array of health issues possibly tied to DST. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden for example, reports a rise in heart attacks in the first three workdays after DST, while researchers at Michigan State University found a spike in workplace accidents on the Monday after clocks moved forward.
Health officials in the Boston area even claim DST may trigger a significant rise in miscarriages for vitro fertilization patients.
Loss of sleep and changes in an individual’s chronobiological rhythms appears to be at the heart of the problem. The adverse impact can last a few days, weeks or even months—and ultimately trigger depression and perhaps suicides. Danish researchers, in fact, report an 11-percent increase depression cases in the weeks following while a report out of the University of Melbourne warned of a possible link to suicide.
“The results confirm that male suicide rates rise in the weeks following the commencement of daylight saving, compared to the weeks following the return to eastern standard time and for the rest of the year,” the Melbourne-based study reported.
While DST’s adverse consequences appear real, it is difficult to identify just how many of the 1.6 billion people involved will suffer significant health issues. The vast majority will probably just find themselves a little more tired for a few days.
Timeanddate.com, nonetheless, offers some transition tips to make the shift easier (March 8th this year). The site advises waking up a littler earlier than usual on the Friday and Saturday before the clocks spring forward, eating a healthy breakfast in the days following the shift and going for a morning walk in the light right after DST. Sunlight will help adjust your body’s clock to the change, according to the site.
So, take heart. Warmer, greener days are at hand. Just make sure the loss of a single hour’s time doesn’t set your health back.