On Sunday, November 4th, Daylight Saving Time (DST) officially ends, as we “fall back” in the Standard Time designation. Gaining that extra hour of sleep does more than simply boost moods and morale, however; it can also prove deadly.
The switch into DST in the Spring has been linked to an increased number of fatal car accidents, and “a 24% spike in heart attack visits around the country,” per Business Insider. Changing back into Standard Time, on the other hand, corresponds with a 21% drop in heart attacks – but not in fata car crashes.
From a 2001 study published in Sleep Med:
“The behavioral adaptation anticipating the longer day on Sunday of the shift from DST in the fall leads to an increased number of accidents suggesting an increase in late night (early Sunday morning) driving when traffic related fatalities are high possibly related to alcohol consumption and driving while sleepy. Public health educators should probably consider issuing warnings both about the effects of sleep loss in the spring shift and possible behaviors such as staying out later, particularly when consuming alcohol in the fall shift. Sleep clinicians should be aware that health consequences from forced changes in the circadian patterns resulting from DST come not only from physiological adjustments but also from behavioral responses to forced circadian changes.”
In layman’s terms, people may stay out later than usual because they know they are gaining back an hour, which could lead to drowsy driving, or drinking too much and then getting behind the wheel.
The role of circadian rhythms in car accidents
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock: it runs for 24-hours a day, and helps determine why you feel awake at some times, and sleepy at others. It is controlled by your brain (specifically, the hypothalamus), but it can be affected by light and dark.
During Daylight Saving Time, both sunrise and sunset are pushed forward one hour, which means the days are darker and the nights are lighter. The exact opposite happens when DST ends in the fall: sunrise and sunset come earlier, giving us more light in the morning and less in the evening.
All of these changes to when it is light and dark can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythms. When our rhythms are off, we tend to be groggier and less attentive, which makes us (and others) dangerous when out on the road. According to the study, “There was a significant increase in accidents for the Monday immediately following the spring shift to DST. There was also a significant increase in number of accidents on the Sunday of the fall shift from DST.”
Avoiding a car accident after falling back
That extra hour might seem like gift on Sunday morning, but it can lead to fatal car crashes on Saturday night or Monday morning. If you plan on spending that extra hour out on the town, take a few precautions:
- Make sure you have a designated driver, or call an Uber.
- If you are the DD, go home at the regular time, to avoid other, less conscientious drivers on the road.
- Make sure to get your normal amount of sleep, if possible.
- If you start to feel tired on the road, pull over and take a nap (if you must), or call someone to come and get you.
- If you are a “morning person,” consider setting your alarm an hour earlier for a few days, so you can adjust to the new time change.
The switch from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time can be a hard adjustment, even with the extra hour of sleep. Make sure to take care of yourself that weekend, so you can be safe on the road. If you are hit by a drunk or drowsy driver and sustain an injury, call us. Merkel & Cocke, P.A. has represented clients injured in car wrecks across Mississippi. We can help. Please call 662-799-1633 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation at our office in Jackson, Oxford or Clarksdale.