How dangerous is Daylight Savings Time, really?

Chances are good that you’re feeling more tired than usual this Monday morning. The most likely culprit: Daylight Savings Time, a pre-industrial solution for maximizing precious hours of sunlight in winter that we still use today. At the beginning of spring, we all jump forward an hour in the middle of the night—and that means we all have to adjust to a new sleep schedule at the same time.

The problem: losing an hour of sleep can be costly in a society that’s already chronically sleep-deprived. According to the CDC, Americans are getting insufficient sleep to the point that it’s becoming a public health problem. Lost sleep means more mistakes: more motor vehicle accidents, more medical errors, and more industrial accidents. 

How bad is one more missed hour of sleep? A recent study estimated that the risk of crashes increases 5-7% after we all spring forward, and a 2014 study from the University of Colorado attributed 302 deaths in a single year to adjusting the clocks. 

Image source: The CDC

Why is one lost hour of sleep so costly?

It should be obvious that getting behind the wheel while drunk or high is dangerously risky. What many people don’t know is that excessive drowsiness can actually produce similar effects to intoxication behind the wheel: increased difficulty making good decisions, problems with paying attention to the road, and a delayed reaction time for steering and braking. 

Put millions of drowsy drivers on the road at once, and the results are disastrous every year. In addition to the direct effects of dangerous, sometimes fatal, crashes, analysts believe that Daylight Savings is taking a toll on our productivity long after we adjust to the new schedule. A study of mining injuries in the United States found that a 6 percent spike of injuries on the Monday following the yearly clock adjustment translated to 2,600 workdays lost for time off work and follow-up treatment. Even for white-collar workers who aren’t operating heavy machinery, a single hour of lost sleep translated to increased distractibility and “cyberloafing,” using work computers for reasons unrelated to work. That translates to as much as $434 million in lost productivity for the American economy per year. 

What can you do to stay safe?

Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to opt out of Daylight Savings Time in modern society. There are, however, some ways to lessen the impact of losing an hour of shut-eye. Consider:

  • Taking public transit, biking, or walking instead of driving until your sleep schedule adjusts
  • Avoiding backlit screens before bed so you’ll fall asleep more easily
  • Pulling off the road to take a nap if you can’t keep your eyes open on a long trip
  • Letting your employees adjust their start times for a week or two

Learn more about drowsy driving

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