Arts & Sciences

A Wash U Professor Explains Why Daylight Saving Time Is Bad For Us

Erik Herzog, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is among the experts in biological rhythms who believe that the United States should abolish daylight saving time. (Photo: Shutterstock)

This weekend, weary Halloween revelers across the U.S. will dutifully set their clocks to “fall back” — signaling the end of daylight saving time for 2020. The annual ritual may give some people an extra hour of sleep on Saturday night, but for others, including parents of young children and shift workers, it’s an annoying complication that takes days of adjustment.

And is it really necessary? A growing body of evidence suggests that our twice-yearly tradition of changing our clocks to gain or lose an hour of morning sunlight isn’t just irritating: It’s actually dangerous. In the first days after the switch to daylight saving time in the spring, heart attacks and traffic accidents both increase.

Several states are now contemplating an end to daylight saving time. Last year, the Illinois Senate actually passed a bill to abolish the practice, which dates back to World War I and was presented as an energy saver (research, it’s worth noting, is “decidedly mixed”).

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Erik Herzog, PhD explained why scientists increasingly believe we need to scrap the time shifting. A professor of biology and neuroscience at Washington University, he focuses on understanding circadian clocks and their role in behavior and health.

“What we experience is this shifting of the clock on the wall. Nothing in the world changes,” he said. “The only thing that’s going to happen is we’re going to ask everyone to somehow change their biology, which tells you when to wake up and when to go to sleep, to adjust to this social cue on the wall. And that’s a real challenge to our biology.”

While “falling back” has been associated with positive things (including a reduction in car crashes in the days after the shift), the price we pay is true havoc in the spring.

“When we spring forward, that loss of an hour of sleep is really challenging,” Herzog said. “We see things like three days of increased risk for car accidents, and three days of risk associations for heart attacks. … It’s one hour that cumulatively, over many days, can have a big impact on our health.”

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