You’re not the only one losing sleep and ranting over the change to and from daylight saving time. A survey in July revealed that 63% of Americans support eliminating the seasonal time changes. The lost or gained hour of sleep has a lot of scientists and lawmakers peeved as well.

In fact, there’s a veritable war going on against this frustrating, outdated, and arguably ineffective and unhealthy artificial time warp, which, interestingly, has its very roots in efforts to battle real wars.

There was a time when the nation could fall back on the idea that daylight saving time made sense: saving energy during wartime or when oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970s. Fast-forward to 2020, and, well, this forced mini jet lag seems to be fueling everything from stress and sleeplessness to a surge in car crashes, with conflicting evidence on whether it saves energy.

How it works… and doesn’t

Daylight saving time (DST) starts on the second Sunday of March, when, at 2 a.m., clocks are set forward one hour and people presumably lose an hour of sleep (though scientists say not everyone is affected by the change).

DST ends on the first Sunday in November, when, at 2 a.m., clocks are set back one hour to return to standard time and people snooze a bit longer.

The government’s ongoing justification for DST is that it saves energy by extending daylight during evening hours in the longer days of spring into fall, on the premise that people will spend more time outside in the evening, using lights and appliances less — and most people, the thinking goes, will wake after the summer sun rises. The extra daylight is also purported to make travel home from work and school safer, and the transportation department even claims it reduces crime.

There is some evidence suggesting that springing forward and falling back not only mess with our internal biological clock and spawn a ton of outrage on social media, but can also have serious health and safety consequences.

But does it work? The evidence that DST saves energy is controversial, and the topic is difficult to study, science writer Stephanie Pappas explains — in part because energy consumption patterns have changed over the past century. (Lighting, for example, now represents a smaller piece of the energy pie.)

One study, just in Indiana, found that DST increases residential energy use by 1%. Other research suggests people actually use more gasoline to enjoy that extra hour of daylight.

Sleep, health, and safety concerns

There is some evidence suggesting that springing forward and falling back not only mess with our internal biological clock and spawn a ton of outrage on social media, but can also have serious health and safety consequences.

In the week after the spring forward to DST, car accidents in the United States spike by 6%, resulting in about 28 additional deaths each year, according to a study of 732,835 crashes from 1996 to 2017, published in January 2020 in the journal Current Biology. The increase was also found to shift from April to March when the start of DST was moved to March in 2007.

Heart attacks spike 25% on the Monday after springing forward and dip 21% on the Tuesday after falling back.

“Our study provides additional, rigorous evidence that the switch to daylight saving time in spring leads to negative health and safety impacts,” said study leader Celine Vetter, PhD, an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “These effects on fatal traffic accidents are real, and these deaths can be prevented.”

A 2014 study found that the timing of heart attacks changes in the week after the clock is moved forward or back. Historically, Monday is the biggest day for heart attacks. But heart attacks spike 25% on the Monday after springing forward and dip 21% on the Tuesday after falling back. The total number of heart attacks for each full week after the change does not change, and scientists don’t know exactly what’s going on with any of this, but they have an idea:

“Perhaps the reason we see more heart attacks on Monday mornings is a combination of factors, including the stress of starting a new workweek and inherent changes in our sleep-wake cycle,” says study team member Amneet Sandhu, MD, a cardiology fellow at the University of Colorado in Denver. “With daylight saving time, all of this is compounded by one less hour of sleep.” Whatever the reason, he says, the findings may indicate a need to better staff hospitals the Monday after setting our clocks forward.

Sleep matters

The extent of actual sleep disruption caused by these relatively minor forced temporal shifts is not fully understood. But it’s well established that changing clocks confuses the internal biological clocks for many people. Our circadian rhythm, governed by the natural cycle of daylight and darkness, has evolved over eons to release melatonin when it’s time to sleep and suppress it when we should be awake.

In a survey last year, 55% of Americans said they felt somewhat or extremely tired after the spring forward to DST.

Some research suggests even this one hour of lost sleep can, like jet lag, mess with our circadian rhythm, and our sleep, for up to a week. Lack of sleep is known to increase anxiety and, if chronic, raise the risk of heart diseasedepression, and reduced brainpower. Even just a single night of lousy sleep can cause fatigue that can slow the brain down the next day in a manner similar to being drunk.

For all these reasons, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently called for elimination of daylight saving time. The reasoning, according to M. Adeel Rishi, MD, a pulmonology and sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic: “Permanent, year-round standard time is the best choice to most closely match our circadian sleep-wake cycle,” Rishi says. “Daylight saving time results in more darkness in the morning and more light in the evening, disrupting the body’s natural rhythm.”

Get over it

The advice for sleeping off the time change is not much different from general tips on sleeping better. Exercise, eat well, avoid alcohol, and aim to be consistent about bedtimes. Aim to sleep in on Sunday when the clock springs forward, as either time change approaches, try going to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night starting a week before the spring forward, or a bit later each night before the fall back.

Meantime, times may in fact be a changin’.

In recent years, a flurry of state legislation — more than 200 time-change bills have been introduced in state legislatures since 2015 — has augured for nixing daylight saving time altogether and sticking to standard time, though none so far have resulted in change. On the flip side, a dozen states have passed laws to abolish standard time and stick with DST, should the federal government ever allow that. For now, though, full-time DST is forbidden under federal law.

“There is ample evidence of the negative, short-term consequences of the annual change to daylight saving time in the spring,” says Kannan Ramar, MD, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Because the adoption of permanent standard time would be beneficial for public health and safety, the AASM will be advocating at the federal level for this legislative change.”