Whether it’s “springing forward” or “falling back”, the time-worn tradition of daylight savings certainly has its critics. And while we won’t get into the politics behind daylight savings (it’d be a bit too time consuming…), we think it’s important to clear the air: physically, daylight savings doesn’t benefit anyone.
When we fall back for daylight savings, we often say we’re looking forward to “gaining” an hour of sleep. When we spring forward, we bemoan the one hour of sleep we’ve “lost”. But the truth is we’re not gaining or losing anything — our bodies are simply being deceived by the different time shown on the clock. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no effect on our minds or bodies. Let’s discuss how daylight savings can throw off our rhythm and health, and how that in turn can impact our driving abilities.
A rough time for circadian rhythms
While daylight savings is often considered a gain or loss of one precious hour of sleep, there’s little evidence to back this claim. Instead, these alterations to our sleep-wake cycle can upset sleep for up to a week, according to some research. In fact, the cumulative effect of five consecutive days of earlier rise times actually suggests a net loss of sleep across the week.
Basically, daylight savings causes a disruption to our circadian rhythm cycles (24-hour cycles that coordinate mental and physical systems throughout the body). A disturbance to these cycles can lead to behavioral and mood upsets. And when properly aligned, circadian rhythm promotes restful, restorative sleep.
“Falling” and “springing” at the expense of safety?
So how does this affect driving safety? When disrupted from their natural cycle — as in the case of daylight savings — our circadian rhythms can cause a loss of sleep or even worse. Some of us experience physical, mental, and behavioral changes following this disturbance. And unfortunately, this can lead to drowsiness, which can cause more car accidents on the road.
Recent research found that springing forward — the springtime counterpart of pushing clocks one hour forward — leads to a 6% increase in fatal car accidents in the United States. This is due both to people disrupting their normal sleep patterns and driving to work in darkness. Research also shows a spike in heart attacks, strokes, workplace injuries, and other complications following the leap. Even other studies show that daylight savings can lead to harsher judicial sentencing.
There are changes in accident patterns resulting from falling back as well, with a decline in morning accidents and a spike in evening accidents. There’s also a potential correlation between daylight savings and heart health — negative in the spring, but positive in the fall. Hospitals report a 24% spike in heart-attack visits in the spring, but they drop by 21% in autumn.
Making the most of daylight savings
Now is as good a time as any to brush up on safe driving habits. From avoiding distractions, to staying aware of your surroundings, to staying off your phone—it’s especially important to remain a safe driver during times of elevated risk. It’s also always wise to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack on the road. Whether you’re a driver or passenger, remaining calm can help mitigate any accidents.
To avoid putting others at risk, it’s essential to stay in tune with your body. Knowing when you’re too tired to drive can help prevent accidents. In fact, drowsy driving causes thousands of injuries and deaths per year — and as we’ve reiterated, daylight savings may only contribute to these numbers.
To put it in shorter form, here’s a list of steps you can take to be safer on the road:
- Keep your regular sleep schedule. Don’t make any adjustments to your bedtime because you think you’ll have an “extra hour” to sleep in or head to bed early to make up for a “lost” hour. You’ll ultimately just make yourself more tired!
- Make sure your car is in good working order. Have you tuned-up lately? Completed your safety inspection? Now is a great time to check your headlights, make sure your windshield wipers are up-to-snuff, etc.
- Don’t rush, and plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, and plenty of time for a stress-free wake up in the morning. You may need an extra cup of coffee, after all.
- Slow down. Things like crosswalks, stop signs, and pedestrians will be harder to see as the sun sets earlier or rises later, so make sure you’re taking your time and staying hyper-vigilant.
- We’ll say it again: slow down. This time, literally. Make extra sure you know what the speed limit is at all times, and make sure to check the forecast before hitting the road for any bad weather conditions you may encounter.
- Give your fellow drivers space. Don’t tailgate people in front of you, and if someone is crowding your rear, move over a lane and let them pass. You want plenty of time to brake in a sudden change, and you also don’t want anyone to rear-end you.
Regardless of how you feel about daylight savings, it’s here to stay (at least for now). And while daylight savings may not be the most popular thing under the sun, you can make a case that it’s not all doom and gloom. Mornings are brighter in the fall, which can lead to better visibility on earlier drives. There are even some health benefits. Research shows that, generally speaking, more morning light is better for sleep, our body clocks, and overall health. And in spring, the “extra hour” of daylight and warmer temperatures often encourage us to spend more time outside in the sun, which can lead to improved mood, reduced stress, and better physical health.
Ultimately, daylight savings illustrates just how sensitive the body is to just one hour of “lost” (or “gained”) sleep. It also goes to show that at this time of year (and all year), you can never be too prepared, especially when it comes to car safety and insurance coverage. From daylight savings to actual savings, it’s important you find an insurance company that will keep you covered all year round, so get a quote with Elephant today!