The Right Prescription

Death to Daylight Saving Time

Ditching DST would save billions in medical care and energy costs.

By 3.11.13

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This morning you were required to get out of bed an hour earlier than you rose last Monday. If you are like most people, you did so in the same spirit of resignation with which you endure winter rain, believing that there are benefits to be gained from Daylight Saving Time that outweigh its discomfort and inconvenience. This belief, however, has no basis in reality. Unlike cold rain, which at least provides sustenance for the land and its inhabitants, DST offers no benefit whatsoever. Indeed, evidence is mounting that it actually constitutes a threat to your health and adds substantially to the cost of American medical care.

This, you may think, is an exaggeration perpetrated by a late riser rendered cranky by the necessity of getting up an hour before his body clock is ready to deal with the travails of Monday morning. But, while I confess to considerable irritation at this prospect, it is nonetheless true that the change to DST is bad for your health. As Bora Zivkovic writes in Scientific American, “Chronobiologists who study circadian rhythms know that for several days after the spring-forward clock resetting … traffic accidents increase, workplace injuries go up and, perhaps most telling, incidences of heart attacks rise sharply.”

Heart attacks? Yep. Zivkovic explains: “As the faint light of dawn starts preparing our bodies for waking up… our various organs, including the heart, also start preparing for increased function. If the alarm clock suddenly rings an hour earlier than usual, a weak heart can suffer an infarct.” A what? This is medical jargon for a piece of tissue that dies because its blood supply has been cut off. If this happens to your heart, you’re in what our 41st President would describe as “deep doo-doo.” And your risk of suffering this calamity is far higher in the early morning, right about the time that alarm goes off, than at any other time of day.

So, if the frequency of heart attacks, traffic accidents and workplace injuries--which are usually very expensive to treat--goes up dramatically when we change the clocks, why do we do it? At a time when the “low-information voter” has been much discussed by pundits, you will not be surprised to learn that most people have no idea. For years, I have done my own unscientific survey of friends, co-workers, et al., and the percentage of people who actually know why they change their clocks is shockingly low. A small percentage will say it saves energy, but none of are able to explain how resetting their clocks could accomplish this miracle.

Nonetheless, saving energy is the ostensible object of the exercise, despite the absence of any real evidence that it actually works. The notion that adjusting clocks seasonally to avoid “wasting” daylight has a long pedigree, but it was never attempted on a large scale until the two world wars of the 20th century, during which various powers adopted DST to conserve oil and coal. It reared its ugly head again in the U.S. during the energy crisis of the 1970s in an attempt to reduce energy demand and was subsequently adopted throughout the contiguous 48 states and Alaska. Notable exceptions were Arizona and most of Indiana.

The latter finally joined the DST herd in 2006 and research into the effects of that conversion has produced some not-so-surprising results. The Wall Street Journal reports that two economists from the University of California-Santa Barbara used “more than seven million monthly meter readings … covering nearly all the households in southern Indiana for three years … to compare energy consumption before and after counties began observing daylight-saving time.” For DST skeptics, the study’s findings will provide a considerable amount of schadenfreude. As it happens, DST actually increases energy consumption.

As the Journal puts it, “Having the entire state switch to daylight-saving time each year, rather than stay on standard time, costs Indiana households an additional $8.6 million in electricity bills.” It turns out that the change drove an increase in air-conditioning costs as well as an increase in heating costs. There was a drop in lighting costs, but that is the least expensive use of electricity. In other words, by imposing DST, the state of Indiana quite literally forced its residents to fork out millions of dollars for the privilege of joining their fellow Americans in having their circadian rhythms thrown out of whack.

Which brings us back to the health implications of DST. It causes dramatic spikes in expensive health problems like heart attacks, traffic accidents, and workplace injuries. In addition, it forces us to consume more energy, which is not getting any cheaper under the Obama energy policies. So it would seem that a good way to save an enormous amount in health care costs as well as energy costs would be to deep-six DST. Will that happen? Probably not. It makes too much sense. If that seems depressing, don’t worry. Depression is another well-documented effect of the annual change to Daylight Saving Time. It’ll wear off soon, if you live.

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About the Author

David Catron is a health care consultant. He has an MBA from the University of Georgia and blogs at Health Care BS.