Would permanent DST be a spring forward in the wrong direction?

·Senior Editor
·6 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent and end twice-yearly clock changes starting next year.

“We don't have to keep doing this stupidity anymore,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said after it was passed. “Why we would enshrine this in our laws and keep it for so long is beyond me.”

Daylight saving time was first adopted during World War I, in the belief that moving an hour of sunlight to the end of the day would help save energy, but it didn’t become the norm nationally until the 1960s. Today, every state except Hawaii and Arizona “springs forward” one hour in March before “falling back” to what’s known as standard time in mid-November.

Polls show that most Americans dislike having to change their clocks twice a year, and a solid body of evidence suggests that the practice creates a variety of negative outcomes, including small, but significant, increases in car accidents, acute health problems and mental health challenges. Still, it’s been nearly half a century before any action has been taken at the national level. Congress enacted a trial period of year-round daylight saving time in 1974, but the experiment was cut short just over a year later, after several early morning traffic accidents involving children.

The campaign to again make daylight saving time permanent has gained steam in recent years. Since 2018, 18 states have enacted bills that would establish year-round daylight saving time, but none could go into effect without a change in laws at the federal level.

Why there’s debate

Even though it’s been the norm in most of the U.S. for decades, many experts agree the current method of switching clocks twice a year should end. But doing that means having to choose one system — either standard time or daylight saving time — for the entire year.

The debate essentially boils down to whether it's better to maximize daylight at the beginning of the day or the end of the day. Advocates for permanent daylight saving time say that having the sun set later gives Americans, particularly kids, more time to enjoy the evening hours before it gets dark. They point to evidence suggesting that later sunsets correlate with lower crime, encourage people to be more active and provide an economic boost. “Daylight saving time brings sunshine, smiles and savings to every person in the country,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Many health experts, though, say the Senate’s bill selects the wrong time system to make permanent. They argue that standard time — which would create more sunlight in the morning hours — is better suited to fit our bodies’ natural rhythms, which have been established over centuries of evolution. “Year-round standard time … aligns best with human circadian biology and provides distinct benefits for public health and safety,” the American Academy of Sleep Medicine wrote in a statement. There are also practical concerns about the physical risks and emotional effects that will come from late winter sunrises, specifically the potential danger posed to young kids traveling to school in the dark.

A third group argues that it doesn’t really matter which system we choose, since both have their benefits and drawbacks. The real problem, they say, is switching back and forth twice a year.

What’s next

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she is in no hurry to put the Senate’s bill to a vote, given the many other pressing issues the country is facing. She did, however, express confidence that it would pass eventually. “I think it’s not going to be much of an issue for us,” she said.

Perspectives

Life is simply better when the sun goes down later

“Eternal daylight savings is the way. When this time of year arrives, everyone in America is happy (once people adjust). The clocks change just as the weather does, and it’s a portent of better things to come. I see no reason not to make that sunny optimism a year-round endeavor.” — Drew Magary, SF Gate

Standard time echoes our bodies’ natural rhythms

“Standard time most closely approximates natural light, with the sun directly overhead at or near noon. In contrast, during daylight saving time from March until November, the natural light is shifted unnaturally by one hour later. Based on abundant evidence that daylight saving time is unnatural and unhealthy, I believe we should abolish daylight saving time and adopt permanent standard time.” — Beth Ann Malow, Conversation

It doesn’t matter which system we choose, as long as we end the time change

“Let’s quit the clock fussing. Pick a time and make it year-round. Daylight Saving Time? Standard Time? Split the difference at half an hour? Whatever. Just choose one and stick with it.” — Editorial, Tampa Bay Times

Americans will get more out of extra daylight in the evening than in the morning

“Because daylight saving time favors light in the evening, it’s meant to encourage activity later in the day. Studies observing behavioral patterns have found people do tend to spend more time away from home in the afternoon and evening, but also tend to wake up earlier and are more active around the house in the morning. Also, children spend more time playing outside with evening sunlight.” — Camille Squires, Quartz

We need sunlight in the morning to function properly

“Our bodies evolved, over millions of years, to be exquisitely attuned to the sun’s rhythm. When we wake and see sunlight in the morning, it trips off a cascade of chemicals in our brains that coordinate mental and physical health. Morning sunlight (even through the clouds on a winter day) is vital.” — Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, Atlantic

Daylight saving time is already a problem, there’s no reason to make it permanent

“Going to daylight saving time year-round is a really bad idea. If we do this, it's essentially dosing the entire United States with jet lag — permanent jet lag.” — Nathaniel F. Watson, sleep medicine researcher, to NBC News

The benefits and drawbacks of each system depend on personal circumstances

“The bottom line: It's not clear whether having that extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day versus the beginning is helpful. It just depends on who you are and what you want. You can make an argument either way.” — Harry Enten, CNN

It would be easy to adjust the start times for work and schools to account for later sunrises

“For those thinking ‘I don’t want later sunset times all year long!’ or ‘I don’t want to start my day in the winter amid darkness!’ know that it’s always been possible for our society to just ... gradually change school or work start times depending on the season.” — Brian Resnick, Vox

Adjusting our clocks doesn’t really change much of anything

“A better name than daylight saving time might be daylight shifting time. DST is merely putting different numerical labels on the solar events of each day. To think we can alter our circadian rhythms that way would be like trying to lose weight by converting to the metric system, or cool off on a summer day by switching thermometers to Celsius.” — Randyn Charles Bartholomew, Scientific American

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images (2)

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