According to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, reports have shown that the number of car crashes increase about 17 percent during the first week of daylight saving time, and the Monday after the clocks move forward is one of the deadliest days of the year to be on the road.

The study suggests that the spike in accidents during the beginning of daylight saving time has to do with the change in people’s sleep patterns. When daylight saving time is put into effect and clocks are set one hour ahead, it takes at least a few days following the time change for people to get a good night’s sleep again. This lack of sleep and change in sleep patterns can lead to distraction and inattentiveness during driving, leading to the spike in car accidents.

Internal Body Clocks Never Fully Adjust to DST

Switching to daylight saving time may give people an extra hour of sunlight, but according to German researchers, internal body clocks never fully adjust to the change, and the seasonal disruption might have other effects on the body as well.

Lead researcher Till Roenneberg of Ludwig-Maximillans-University in Munich told ABC News in October 2014 that the circadian rhythm, or the body’s internal clock, follows the sun and changes depending upon where you live, but does not react to the social change. He said daylight saving time might actually be one cause of our lack of “seasonality,” when the internal clock is in tune with the natural change in light throughout the year.

People’s time for sleep and peak activity appears to be easily adjusted when daylight saving time ends it the fall, but never fully adjusts to the return of daylight saving time in the spring, according to the German study. This was especially true for those who stay up late at night and sleep late in the morning.

Offsetting the Effects of DST

Some of the ways to counteract the negative effects that daylight saving time has on your sleep patterns and internal clock include:

  • Spending at least an hour outside in the sunshine every day, if possible
  • Following good sleep habits, including limiting or avoiding heavy eating, caffeine, alcohol, and complex tasks (especially computer use) for at least an hour before bedtime
  • Trying to match workday sleep patterns with those of days off
  • Minimizing light exposure at night
  • Eating at regular times

According to U.S. News & World Report, the older you are, the more significant the impact daylight saving time has on your sleep patterns and internal clock, and those with pre-existing sleep conditions have a particularly difficult time adjusting. Those who are obese or have obesity-related health problems have higher amounts of “social jet lag,” which occurs when the body’s internal clock is out of sync with their social and work clocks. Daylight saving time can worsen this condition.

Besides car accidents, research has also found that heart attacks and workplace accidents also increase just after daylight saving time takes effect each year, due to a slowdown in performance, concentration, and memory resulting from the disruption in sleep patterns.

Image by Mike Licht

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