Story at a glance
- Most Americans agree it’s time to do away with daylight saving time.
- But, if that does happen, it’s still up for debate whether the United States will permanently switch to Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time.
- While a bill passed by the Senate purports permanent Daylight Saving Time will yield economic and safety benefits, sleep experts point to the host of health gains that accompany Standard Time.
On Sunday, Nov. 6th, most Americans will reluctantly turn their clocks back one hour as Daylight Saving Time ends for the year.
But, even if the country does do away with the time change, the question still remains whether the U.S. should permanently adapt to Daylight Saving Time (DST) or Standard Time (ST).
On the one hand, sleep experts support a permanent ST, where mornings are lighter and evenings darker, as this shift would be more in line with humans’ circadian rhythms and help stave off disease.
However, a law passed by the Senate in March 2022 would implement permanent DST, where mornings are darker and sunlight stretches into the evening hours. The Sunshine Protection Act argues permanent DST would give the economy a boost as more Americans stay out later and spend more money.
For many, “falling back” or “springing ahead” is an inconvenience that disrupts daily schedules. But polls reveal no public consensus on which time should remain permanent should the switch be abolished.
Currently, the United States spends about eight months out of the year operating on DST and around four months on ST, with the exception of Hawaii and most of Arizona, which remain on ST all year.
The case for permanent ST
Sleep experts say the health benefits that could come from a permanent ST are crucial for a chronically sleep-deprived nation. In response to darkness, the body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep but is suppressed by light. Thus, having too much sunlight in the evening can actually work against a good night’s sleep.
The status quo leads to circadian misalignment, or “social jetlag,” says Beth Malow, a professor of neurology and pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt sleep division. Malow also authored the Sleep Research Society’s position statement advocating for a permanent ST.
Under DST, our work and school schedules dictate our actions; while in an ideal scenario, environmental changes like lighter mornings and darker evenings would regulate sleep patterns, Malow explained in an interview with Changing America.
“There’s a disconnect when we have to wake up early for work or school and it’s still dark outside and we want to sleep,” she said.
Light in the morning wakes humans up, provides us with energy, and sets our mood for the day. “It actually aligns us so that our body clocks are in sync with what’s going on in our environment,” Malow said.
Having more energy in the morning can also make it easier to fall asleep at night when it’s darker outside.
Overall, ST “maximizes our morning light and minimizes light too late at night,” Malow said.
Polls show younger individuals are less likely to support abolishing the clock change, largely because they’re more flexible than their older counterparts who support nixing the practice.
But teenagers and young adults are at a higher risk of negative impacts from permanent DST, partially because they’re already primed for sleep deprivation.
“What happens when you go through puberty and you become a teenager is…your natural melatonin levels shift by about two hours, so it takes you longer to fall asleep,” said Malow. “[Teenagers] end up going to bed or being tired at 11 o’clock at night, even midnight sometimes, but they have to wake up early for school.”
Students who wake up in darker mornings and drive to school could be at a greater risk of car accidents. The same is true for workers with early commutes and individuals in the north or on western edges of time zones who tend to experience more darkness overall.
“Sleep is really, really important to our health. And right now, what we’re doing is imposing mandatory social jetlag for eight months out of the year,” Malow said. “And we’d like to—rather than going to mandatory social jetlag for 12 months out of the year—to stop the clock and go back to Standard Time which is much more natural.”
The argument for DST
Despite the myriad of health benefits that come from adopting ST year-round, having more sunlight in the evenings if DST were permanently adopted is a tempting prospect for many Americans, especially those who work or attend school indoors all day.
The Sunshine Protection Act, spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), taps into these sentiments, and argues adopting permanent DST could reduce the risk of seasonal depression and improve other aspects of Americans’ lives.
The bill was first introduced in 2021 and has received bipartisan support. The Senate passed the bill in March of this year, and would go into effect next November if passed by the House. States that currently operate on ST would not be required to switch to DST under the law.
Similar efforts have been made at the local level. In the past five years, 19 states have enacted legislation or passed resolutions to adopt year-round DST should Congress permit the change.
The efforts follow a trial period in the 1970s when the United States briefly implemented permanent DST. The country was in the midst of an energy crisis, and lawmakers anticipated more evening light would reduce excess fuel consumption for heating and light. However, it was unpopular among the American public and ended just 10 months later.
In the years since, studies have pointed to additional benefits of more sunlight in the evening, ranging from economic growth to crime reduction.
One study carried out by JP Morgan Chase and Company in 2016 found “card spending in Los Angeles experienced a relative increase of 0.9 percent in the 30 days following the start of DST, and experienced a relative decline of 3.5 percent in the 30 days following the end of DST,” leading authors to conclude DST could boost consumer spending.
“It is plausible that cities that utilize DST may see some benefit from the perspective of public safety,” authors added.
An additional report from 2015 revealed robberies fell an average of 7 percent for the entire day when clocks “sprang forward” to DST, “with a much larger 27 percent drop during the evening hour that gained some extra sunlight,” authors wrote.
While promoting the bill on the senate floor, Rubio highlighted how permanent DST could lead more kids to be active outdoors
“We’re a country [in which] we desperately want our kids to be outside, to be playing, to be doing sports, not just to be sitting in front of a TV or a computer terminal or playing video games all day. And it gets really tough, in many parts of the country, to be able to do that,” Rubio said.
“If you look at the way we live in this country, you want to have the ability to spend more time in the evenings outdoors. Not just to enjoy the outdoors, but to make sporting and outdoor activities available for people at a time when, frankly, we’re losing an hour, an hour-and-a-half in some parts of the country, because of [the time change].”