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Daylight Saving Time Harms Students

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For most people, especially students preoccupied with heavy workloads, the debate regarding daylight saving time (DST) is hardly engaging. It was simply customary that we set our clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. on Nov. 6, and will move it forward again on March 13 of next year.

However, upon considering the outdated origins of DST and its harmful impact on human sleep cycles, it becomes apparent that The Sunshine Protection Act — which intends to make DST permanent — is even more harmful to students than the average citizen.

DST dates back to 1895, when an entomologist raised the idea of setting the clock back two hours so that he would have more time to “go bug hunting in the summer,” according to National Geographic. George Hudson’s proposal was initially dismissed, but it appeared again when government officials brainstormed ways to save energy during World War I. In those days, DST was a highly effective means of conserving energy, allowing citizens to go outside and work in the sunshine instead of consuming electricity for artificial lighting. 

Circumstances have shifted since World War I, though. Today, humans rely on electricity for almost everything. Research conducted by the United States Department of Energy shows that the difference of one hour of sunlight is insignificant compared to overall energy consumption. Even worse, DST has been linked to many negative impacts on humans, such as low productivity among workers, car accidents, sleep deprivation and heart attacks. 

The consequences of DST also disproportionately impact students. Consider how it distorts the human sleep cycle. Experts from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine assert that “daylight saving time increases our morning exposure to darkness and evening exposure to sunlight, the most powerful timing cue for the human body clock.” In other words, DST disturbs the body’s circadian rhythm, which is determined by the times that humans experience light and dark during the day. 

When a person’s circadian rhythm is out of sync with the sunlight, such that they receive less sunlight in the morning and more in the evening, their body will respond by becoming more tired in the morning and awake at night. This bodily feedback is particularly concerning for students, who have strict schedules to maintain; DST can lead to early morning exhaustion and even missing classes and exams. 

If waking up later in the day and feeling fatigued is not an issue enough, DST also has proven to impact our health negatively. The week after a time change imposed by DST, the University of Colorado Boulder noticed a 6% spike in car accidents, the American Academy of Neurology reported an 8% increase in stroke rate and the University of Michigan found that hospitals experienced a 24% increase in visits for heart attacks. Most of the time, these adverse health effects could be traced to the sleep deprivation that people experience due to the time switch and its damage to circadian rhythms. 

For college students, these dangers are especially alarming. Quality health care is less accessible to them, and writers from the Washington Post describe how campus health centers are only capable of providing “lackluster care.” 

In the last year, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio advanced The Sunshine Protection Act, which will make DST permanent instead of standard time. On his campaign website, he argues in favor of DST, telling voters, “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve watched youth sporting events be called in the middle or near the end of the game, before it’s actually concluded, because there’s not enough lights.” His rhetoric concerning children’s sports ending early is exaggerated — the completion of elementary school soccer games should not precede the mental and physical well-being of every citizen who must adjust to DST.

While The Sunshine Protection Act is stalled in the House of Representatives, there is little that students can do to undo the time changes. Still, whether you are a student or not, you should feel concerned about the impact that permanent DST could have on your productivity and health. You can reduce such impacts on yourself by sleeping earlier, keeping a consistent sleep schedule and making morning sunlight a priority by going outside at sunrise.

Chaya Sandhu is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at clsandhu@uci.edu.