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Is Daylight Saving Time necessary? And, why ‘springing ahead’ is harder than ‘falling back’

Sunrise, Daylight Saving Time
Matthias Bachmann | Flickr | http://bit.ly/1QM0RMs
Love it or hate it, Daylight Saving Time starts on March 13. Across the country, people will lose an hour of sleep in exchange for longer days through the summer.

Updated 3/12/18, originally broadcast 3/10/16

Love it or hate it, Daylight Saving Time began over the weekend. Across the country, people lost an hour of sleep in exchange for longer days through the summer. Is it worth it?

On one hand, traffic accidents increase for three days following the time change and people become more irritable and groggy upon losing sleep. Absenteeism and heart attacks also increase directly following the time people switch their clocks forward an hour.

"We're changing the time on the clock, but not when the sun rises,” said Erik Herzog, a biology professor with Washington University. “We're asking our bodies to adapt to an artificial construction.”

On the other hand, DST was created to conserve energy during the summer and provide “longer” days to enjoy the summer sun. In an encore presentation of a “St. Louis on the Air” conversation originally aired March 2016, Herzog said that one of the other original purposes of Daylight Saving Time, in early-1900s Britain, was that it incentivized people to go outside and recreate rather than go to the pubs and drink.

The only problem?

“Advancing is harder than delaying for reasons that are still not clear,” Herzog said. “It is harder for humans to get up earlier than shift and delay our schedule—flying east is harder for most people than west, when traveling across time zones.”

Is it worth it? “Because of the way we work now and the way we deliver our energy, it is clear that Daylight Saving Time is not really solving the problems it set out to solve,” Herzog said.

For the time being, Daylight Saving Time is still a given. Herzog said that for some people, taking melatonin to help fall asleep earlier may help but for others it may have no effect.

“I caution anyone who wants to do this that they’re doing an experiment on themselves,” he said.

Some people will be impacted by Daylight Saving Time and changing work shift schedules more than others — an issue that boils down to genetics.

“It is normal for us to have a schedule that’s not that different from what we’ve inherited from our parents,” Herzog said. “Some of us are naturally inclined to stay up later and some people are naturally shorter sleepers. The amount of sleep and when you sleep are two different things and they seem to be regulated by different genetic processes.”

Herzog also elaborated on the impacts of shift work, a single worldwide time zone and later school start times. Listen to the full discussion here:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.