Is Daylight Savings Time a health hazard?

It's that time of year again.  Daylight Savings Time is upon us.  Sunday, March 14 is when we are to turn the clock ahead in order to "save the daylight."  No need to go into the genesis of this.  It suffices to say that what may have been useful way back when has dubious value today.  To most people, this fiddling around with the clocks is an inconvenience and an annoyance and leads to a degree of confusion for a day or so.  But did you know that a credible case can be made that it is also a health hazard?  So says Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at U.C. Berkeley and director of its Center of Human Sleep Science.

Walker's premise is that a regular night's sleep is essential for good health.  Regarding Daylight Savings Time, Walker writes in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams:

In the Northern Hemisphere, the switch to daylight savings time in March results in most people losing an hour of sleep opportunity. Should you tabulate millions of daily hospital records, as researchers have done, you discover that this seemingly trivial sleep reduction comes with a freighting spike in heart attacks the following day. 

The flip-side of this coin, according to Walker's research, is that in autumn, when clocks are set back an hour and there is an opportunity for an additional hour of sleep, "the rate of heart attacks plummet[s] the day after."  This adds credence to the proposition that even a small amount sleep affects the heart. 

It's not just heart attacks.  Walker goes on to say:

A similar rise and fall relationship can be seen with the number of traffic accidents, proving that the brain, by way of attention lapses and micro-sleeps, is just as sensitive as the heart to small perturbations of sleep. Most people think nothing of losing an hour of sleep for a single night, believing it to be trivial and inconsequential. It is anything but.

There is little a person can do about this twice-a-year time-changing business.  Although ending it should be a purely bipartisan issue, there seems to be little interest in doing so by those "worthies" who are elected to public office.  As is said of such things as Daylight Saving Time: "It is what it is."  However, an individual, especially one with a heart or another serious health issue, can take care not to lose an opportunity for a regular night's sleep because of the time change.  It's better to be safe than sorry.

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