Daylight saving time linked to more medical mistakes

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In the United States, twice a year, we change our clocks to adjust to daylight saving time (DST) in the spring and then go back to standard time in the fall.

While this practice aims to give us more daylight during waking hours, a new study suggests it might have some unintended consequences, especially in healthcare.

Researchers have found that during the months when daylight saving time is in effect, there’s a noticeable increase in the severity of medical mistakes, as well as the amounts paid out in medical malpractice claims. This pattern was consistent over a long period, looking at data from the last thirty years.

Daylight saving time occurs when we set our clocks forward by one hour in the spring, which is meant to extend evening daylight. However, this shift disrupts our body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm depends heavily on the natural light from the sun to help regulate when we feel awake and when we feel sleepy.

By changing the clock, we mess up this natural process, leading to potential sleep problems, changes in mood, and even affecting how well we can think and make decisions.

These changes can be particularly acute right after the switch to daylight saving time in the spring.

The study showed that in the week following this change, while there wasn’t a significant increase in the number of medical errors, the financial outcomes of the mistakes that did happen were more severe.

The research was conducted by examining over 288,000 cases of medical malpractice from January 1990 to September 2018. This data came from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is the largest database of its kind in the U.S.

The analysis compared the incidents and outcomes of malpractice claims during daylight saving time against those during standard time. They also looked specifically at the week after the time changes in the spring to study immediate effects.

Some states don’t participate in daylight saving time, including Arizona, Hawaii, and Indiana (until 2006). These states served as control groups for the study, helping to strengthen the argument that the time change itself was influencing the increase in malpractice severity.

While the study couldn’t directly prove that daylight saving time causes more severe medical errors, the findings suggest a strong link. The disruption to our internal clocks may lead to poorer decision-making and attention in healthcare providers, just as it does in other areas of life.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that daylight saving time might have more drawbacks than benefits. There’s a growing body of evidence showing that the biannual time shift can lead to various health issues.

These findings add to the conversation about whether the practice of changing the time should continue.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, calls for further investigation into how daylight saving time affects healthcare.

The hope is that with more research, policymakers might reconsider the necessity of daylight saving time, given its potential impact on public health and healthcare quality.

If you care about wellness, please read studies about how ultra-processed foods and red meat influence your longevity, and why seafood may boost healthy aging.

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The research findings can be found in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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