The Monday Morning Quarterback

Goodbye Daylight Savings Time, Hello Winter

Benjamin Franklin (who believed that going to bed before dark and waking up before the light increased your immunity, made you smarter and provided added zest to your bank accounts) was among the first to extol the odd concept of Daylight Savings Time (DST).

The idea of DST – by advancing the clock an hour you can add an hour of daylight to your evening – was important to a man who adored his evenings and wished to extend them. Franklin and lived to age 84, so he had something right.

Though DST was first instituted in countries as diverse as Germany and New Zealand for energy conservation, in America, DST boosters advanced the argument that instituting the “Spring Forward/Fall Back” concept would increase evening shopping hours, and could reduce the usage of electricity (the incandescent bulb had been introduced and already there were strains on the energy supply).

Supporters of DST say that it saves energy, promotes outdoor leisure activity in the evening – and is therefore good for physical and psychological health. DST, they say, reduces traffic accidents, reduces crime, and is good for business. Groups that tend to support DST are urban workers or professionals, retail businesses, outdoor sports enthusiasts and businesses, tourism operators, and others who benefit from increased light during the evening.

DST opponents argue that actual energy savings are inconclusive, that DST can disrupt morning activities, and that the act of changing clocks twice a year is economically and socially disruptive and cancels out any benefit. Groups that have tended to oppose DST are farmers, transportation companies, and the indoor entertainment business.

Consider me a firm opponent and proponent of DST. I like it now, when the change (fall back) is relatively easy. I dislike it in the spring when it steals an hour of sleep from me.

In a recent Huffington Post blog, Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute wrote, “(In the fall) we are so sleep deprived to begin with, the extra hour of sleep is welcome.”

It turns out, he agrees with me that, thanks to that extra hour, “falling back” isn’t nearly as disruptive to our bodies as “springing forward.” It has to do with our primal rhythms, or our bodies’ natural clocks. Dr. Oexman says that our bodies generally operate on a slightly longer than 24-hour cycle. “Being able to extend our day is much easier than it is to shorten our day. The body clock is used to a little bit of extra time.”

So even though it’s just over a day since the time change, it can still take up to a week to feel back to normal, especially after the beginning of DST in March. For that, experts suggest a “bedtime reset” – moving bedtime by a few minutes each night leading up to the time change. But in the fall, it’s easy-peasy and all it usually takes is one night. “We tell people they don’t even really need to prepare for the change when we get an extra hour of sleep,” says Oexman.

In fact, “Falling back” may even help us prioritize sleep. After this weekend, it will get dark earlier, which could prompt us to hit the hay sooner, especially compared to the long, well-lit summer evenings that encouraged us to stay up past our bedtimes.

It may even remind us to value sleep long after this weekend comes and goes. In the days after the spring transition, car accidents, heart attacks and injuries on the job increase. But in the fall, after we turn the clocks back, we see a decrease in heart attacks and car accidents, a testament to the power of sleep. “It shows the importance of even gaining one hour of sleep. If we can make an effort to get a little more sleep, maybe we can control diseases like heart disease or diabetes or risk of accidents,” Dr, Oexman says.

However, there is a little bad news. Soon, the sleep-deprived workers who find themselves putting in long hours at the office could be making both the morning and evening commute in the dark. And the early nightfall might make it more difficult to stay awake for some people, especially the elderly. “The tendency is to get tired, watch TV in the dark and nap, and then when it’s time to go to bed, they don’t sleep well and wake up very early in the morning,” Dr. Oexman says.

The dark evenings and trouble sleeping can make some susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sleeplessness can lead to a stronger appetite, decreased energy, unhappiness and a loss of interest in work or other activities.

According to Dr. Oexman, Seasonal Affective Disorder is preventable with a few simple steps:

  • Expose yourself to plenty of light. When it starts to get dark out early, turn on the lights around the house, he says, to remind your brain that it’s not quite time for bed. Get outside during the day, maybe during your lunch break, for natural light. If it’s too cold, open your blinds to at least let some sunshine into your home.
  • Exercise late. Typically, experts don’t recommend working out too close to bedtime, but a late-afternoon or early-evening sweat session can help keep you energized during those dreary evenings.
  • Try light therapy. Buy a small light box to keep on your desk at the office, or for women to turn one on while putting on makeup in the morning. The gadget mimics natural sunlight, so a regular lamp won’t do the trick.

– Art Reker, Account and Creative Executive