Health · Lifestyle

Daylight Saving Time Attacks Again

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

The snowstorm on Wednesday and Thursday of last week brought unusually wet and heavy snow to our village in the country. We escaped power outages brought on by trees falling onto electrical lines but we did have damage to some favorite trees. I sat by the fire with coffee and croissants on Sunday morning, enjoying the winterscape of unsullied snow as far as I could see, until the land gives way to the large pond at the back of the property. The ice has melted now and the pond is once again a water motel for the intrepid geese who stop each year for a two week vacation on their journey north. There was nothing in my winter environment to suggest that an impending “spring ahead” time change was imminent.

The worst day of the year for me is the first work day after Daylight Saving Time begins. Adopted in more than 70 countries, Daylight Saving Time imposes a twice-yearly one-hour change in local clock time. The start of Daylight Saving Time in the spring leads to the loss of one hour of sleep on the night of the transition, but its impact on the days following are significant.

Since I am one of the many who suffer from the disruption in my sleep due to the time change, I tried this year to prepare for the painful change that dampens my mood and energy for weeks by altering my daily routine.

  1. Cognitive behavior therapy: I tried to think differently about the loss of a morning hour of sleep so that I could feel better. Didn’t work. I was still going to be tired and out of sorts for the usual two weeks.
  2. I brought my watch out of deep storage in February, took it for a new band and batteries and began to wear it so that I could change the time two weeks before the actual day. Two weeks ago, I moved the time forward on my watch. Didn’t work. I have too many electronic devices that apprise me of the actual time throughout the day. My daily life is tightly scheduled. The trainer is still coming at 7:30 a.m. and my office hours begin at 9 a.m. no matter that my watch indicates that it is an hour later.
  3. I tried going to bed an hour earlier but I am a night owl so I only had nights of tossing and turning as I obsessed about the upcoming interruption of my delicate morning routine. Didn’t work.

So, today is the day that I began my workday one hour early, and in darkness, I might add. Apparently the purpose of Daylight Saving Time is to save electricity because it provides an additional hour of natural light at night. I still don’t understand how I am saving electricity by wandering around with the lights on for an hour longer every morning. My hour of morning light has been moved to the evening for people who want to walk or bicycle in the evening light, barbecue or golf longer. I wish these people would just go to the gym indoors and leave my morning hour of sleep alone.

Experts who study circadian rhythms and sleep disorders understand that the symptoms I experience at the start of Daylight Saving Time each year are not unusual. I just complain about the symptoms more than most people do. I do have anxiety about the loss of my hour of morning sleep for weeks before the dreaded change in the official time occurs, and then I suffer from sleep deprivation symptoms for at least a week after the change. I consume more coffee to overcome daytime drowsiness then take more drugs to prevent the destruction of my stomach lining from the coffee. And I am certainly cranky. I need morning light to prevent my already unpleasant seasonal affective disorder.

Studies and personal anecdotes supporting the destructive impact of this antiquated plan to shift the number of daylight hours we get into the evening as an energy conservation trick during World War I that became a national standard in the 1960s, are legion. Daylight Saving Time has been documented to alter sleep patterns for weeks, affecting mood, job performance, health and the frequency and severity of auto accidents. Researchers in sleep medicine at Johns Hopkins and Stanford Universities looked at what happened when millions of drivers had their sleep disrupted. They analyzed 21 years of fatal car crash data from the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and found a small but significant increase in road deaths on the Monday after the clock shift in the spring. In this study it was reported that the number of fatal accidents increased to an average of 83.5 on the “spring forward” Monday, compared with an average of 78.2 on a typical Monday. (Reference: “Fatal Accidents following changes in daylight savings time: the American experience.” )

Join the conversation

  • Leslie in Oregon March 13, 2018 at 4:29 am

    I agree with you completely and, with your permission, will send this post to my Congresspeople.

    • Dr. Pat March 13, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Dear Leslie,
      I am thrilled that you might be the tip of the spear for a WVFC movement to do away with time change!
      Do send that request to your congress people. The NRA doesn’t care if we shoot guns in daylight
      or darkness, so possible that our representatives and senators might vote for a return to standard time
      (Standard time is the local time in a country or region when Daylight Saving Time (DST) is not in use.)
      Dr. Pat

  • hillsmom March 12, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Yes, there has been a lot of grumbling about DST. Gussie =^..^= didn’t mind being fed earlier, but I’m still on standard time. It seems that I remember the change being later in the spring and earlier in the fall than what we now have…perhaps you might? I also remember thinking that perhaps we should keep it all year long. Well, didn’t that happen, perhaps during the Carter administration? Whenever it was, IMHO, it was a disaster! For people in the far north, I’m sure it was worse. Here at the Wrinkle Farm/Storage Bin where one has to eat at a barbaric hour, I missed a meal. But, the hour for wine comes earlier..8-) Best to you Dr. Pat. (We’re awaiting the next Nor’easter…blech!)

  • Barbara Thornbrough March 12, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Dr Pat,
    Your article really was fun. I am sure all of your patients would love you spend this week in Florida. It would be so good for you and all of your lucky patients would not see you in a depressed state. Should we purchase grow lights for am wake up? I can not think of the proper name for those lights but I too am fogged out from the time change. Oh oh it is 3:00pm. Off to play golf!!! Bt

    • Dr. Pat March 12, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      Dear Barbara,
      I use a SADD lamp. It is ugly but it works to lift my mood. Maybe I can spend a few days playing golf with you next year during “spring ahead”.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      Dr. Pat

  • Ruby in Manhattan March 12, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    When time changes are warranted, I don’t set a morning alarm and just allow myself to sleep as long as I want to, so I always get a satisfying rest. I don’t really understand the necessity to change the clocks, it may be an outdated methodology.