Many people dread daylight saving time (DST) because it causes them to lose a valuable hour of sleep. It can be especially difficult for those with sleep issues. Each year when the clock is set an hour forward, millions wake up feeling tired. This year, the time shift will occur on March 8. One researcher stated that DST puts sleep and wake cycles out of sync, throwing off biological clocks and causing mini jetlag. If they get behind the wheel feeling like this, it can seriously affect their driving behaviors, leading to an increased risk for accidents.
It may not seem like a lot, but just one lost hour of sleep can slow one’s reaction time. The University of Colorado Boulder’s Circadian and Sleep Epidemiology Laboratory looked at 22 years of data on 732,835 fatal car crashes and found a six percent accident risk increase during the week after the time shift. These numbers broke down to 28 fatal crashes a year, or 5.7 each day of the workweek following the time change. The study’s senior author stated that the risks were more likely to occur in the morning. They did not find an increase in crashes on the Sunday following the time shift, likely because more people do not work on Sundays and can sleep in.
The study was analyzed by other outlets, who concurred with the findings. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics wrote that even small decreases of sleep time can create stress on one’s body, and can contribute to the development of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health’s PubMed published an abstract, which noted a significant increase in auto accidents on the Monday following the time shift in the spring and on the Sunday following the time shift in the fall. For the latter, they concluded that an increase in staying out later and increased alcohol consumption into the early morning hours could have caused the spike in the Sunday accidents.
Preparing for DST
Although the overall yearly increase in these accidents is not high, fatal accidents do occur. PubMed recommends that public health educators issue warnings about the spring time shift. It is also a good idea to prepare ahead of time for the change by getting some extra sleep in the days preceding it. A Johns Hopkins neurologist said that for people who are already sleep-deprived, losing more sleep can produce severe effects.
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