The most miserable weekend of the year? What to know about daylight saving time

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As Americans prepare to move their clocks forward by an hour on Sunday, lawmakers are continuing their bipartisan push to make daylight saving time (DST) permanent.

The Sunshine Protection Act, which slipped through the Senate last year but never received a vote in the House, would establish later sunrises and sunsets all year long.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other top supporters of the bill say that year-round DST would boost exercise and commerce, while also eliminating the annual transition that can cause health issues such as heart problems and sleep deprivation.

But a lengthy list of opponents expressing wide ranging health and safety concerns — including sleep doctors, educators and airlines — will likely ensure that the bill never becomes law.

Lobbying against year-round DST has intensified

Rubio’s year-round DST bill passed the Senate in March 2022 by unanimous consent, catching senators by surprise who later said they weren’t keeping tabs on the issue. That prompted opponents to boost their lobbying efforts.

Perhaps the most prominent critics of permanent DST are sleep experts, who have warned lawmakers that standard time aligns better with humans’ circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep-wake cycles.

They agree that time shifts are harmful — scientists largely agree they raise the risk of heart disease, strokes, sleep deprivation, mood swings and obesity by upsetting the body’s internal block — but argue that standard time, not DST, should be made permanent.

Researchers have connected decreased morning sunlight exposure to higher levels of fatigue.

“Bright morning light, especially following a good night of sleep, has a therapeutic effect and is important for maintaining a healthy mood,” American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Jennifer Martin said in a statement.

Several influential doctors’ groups have endorsed year-round standard time and expressed alarm that Congress nearly went the opposite direction, stating that the body’s clock can take months to adjust to DST.

“Issues other than patient health are driving this debate,” Alexander Ding, a radiologist and trustee at the American Medical Association, said in a November statement. “It’s time that we wake up to the health implications of clock setting.”

Educators and parents are another major proponent of permanent standard time, noting that students face heightened safety risks when they’re forced to commute to school in the dark.

The U.S. briefly mandated year-round DST in 1974 in an effort to reduce energy use, but groups representing school teachers and parents successfully lobbied Congress to nix it.

Airlines, meanwhile, have urged lawmakers to keep the status quo, warning that changes to DST would create issues for passengers and their expansive global networks.

“Abrupt adjustments to DST will cause widespread disruption to both passenger and all-cargo airline schedules to the detriment of consumers and to the connectivity that fuels commerce and tourism,” Hannah Walden, spokesperson for industry group Airlines for America, told The Hill.

Radio stations have also come out against permanent DST, warning that AM stations are required to reduce their transmitter power when the sun is down, and most AM stations get the bulk of their listeners during the morning commute.

Later sunsets has momentum

Supporters of year-round DST point to studies showing reductions in crime and energy use, along with increased rates of exercise.

They note that the idea has gained traction. A March 2022 Monmouth University poll showing that 44 percent of Americans prefer permanent DST, compared to 13 percent who want year-round standard time.

“The sun doesn’t have any enemies,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, tweeted Thursday.

Congress has expanded DST twice, making it so the sun sets later for roughly eight months of the year. In 1986, lawmakers moved the start of DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. In 2005, Congress extended DST by another four weeks.

Nineteen states have passed bills to implement permanent DST if Congress changes the law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The initial push for DST expansion was driven in part by a coalition of golf companies, retailers and other business interests which found that more daylight after work hours helped boost demand.

Candy manufacturers wanted to ensure that DST extended to Halloween, the industry’s largest day of sales.

This time around, Rubio’s bill isn’t getting the same kind of push from top industry groups, many of which told The Hill they’re not lobbying on the issue.

Still, research has connected DST to higher sales. A 2016 report by JPMorgan Chase found that credit and debit card spending dropped 3.5 percent when DST ended. Spending dropped 4.1 percent during the work week, compared to 2.1 percent during the weekend.

“The strongest advocates for the policy have been supporters of small businesses and retailers, like chambers of commerce and outdoor entertainment providers like the golf and barbecue industries,” the report read.

The golf industry has long backed DST, which gives golfers more sunlight to hit the links after work, The Hill previously reported. Florida, Rubio’s home state, has by far the most golf courses of any state and relies on the sport to drive tourism.

Insurers, eager to reduce motor vehicle crashes, have also lobbied Congress on the issue.

Jimi Grande, senior vice president of federal and political affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), said that the transition between standard time and DST leads to spikes in fatal accidents driven by sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm misalignment.

“To the extent that a consistent time system would alleviate those issues, NAMIC believes Congress can and should consider a legislative solution that helps reduce risks for policyholders,” Grande told The Hill.

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