- A bill recently approved by the U.S. Senate proposes that Daylight Saving Time become permanent in 2023.
- Sleep experts say that current shifts between Standard and Daylight Saving Time on a seasonal basis may lead to negative impacts on people's health and mental wellbeing.
- But there may be more health benefits to adopting Standard time permanently across time zones, which would result in earlier sunsets for nearly all Americans across the spring, summer and fall seasons.
- Below, you'll learn: Why do we have Daylight Saving Time? Is Daylight Saving Time only used in the U.S.? How does ending Daylight Saving Time impact your health? And are we actually going to end Daylight Saving Time?
A Senate proposal has made headlines after U.S. elected officials subtly approved a bipartisan bill to make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent in 2023, having sent the proposal over to the House of Representatives shortly after DST kicked in mid-March. Now referred to as the Sunshine Protection Act, the bill proposes that Americans skip the process of changing clocks twice a year at seasonal intervals, and rather stick to prolonged sunsets year-round.
There's been a flurry of support for the bill on social media, even after some users pointed out that Americans already tried to "cancel" DST back in the 1970s. But it's not surprising to some sleep experts that movement on this new initiative has now stalled in the House of Representatives, where officials are asking for more time to consider the ramifications of such a change, according to The Hill.
The debate on making such a move — which would result in an extra hour of bright daylight in afternoon hours in the late fall, winter and early spring, despite an hour's delay to sunrise — is expected to be the main topic of future hearings where The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is planning to decide on how to proceed forward, per reports. One main point of contention is that Americans who get to work or school in early morning hours would be facing commutes and labor in darkness; "I've been hearing a lot about this from my constituents recently because we're in Seattle and it is so dark," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told The Hill. "So if we make [DST] permanent, it's going to be dark until, like, nine o'clock in the morning."
Both government officials and sleep experts agree that changing clocks twice a year isn't helpful for holistic health in the long run – but current proposals to adhere permanently to DST may be more harmful than helpful in the end. Read on to understand why many health experts are banding against permanent DST, and how a potential end to seasonal time changes can impact your health.
Why do we have Daylight Saving Time?
As a concept, DST is usually credited to Benjamin Franklin and documented notes that date back to the 1780s, but it seems that DST was first formally adopted in Germany during World War I in 1916, according to a NBC report. The U.S. didn't follow suit until 1918, but it was abolished shortly after and not reinstated again until 1942. It wasn't until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that the concept of "standard" time was established, with distinct time zones planned across the country, and Americans were then expected to permanently adjust their clocks.
That specific legislature mandated that clocks would be turned forward by one hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in April, and turned back one hour at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October. While the dates on the calendar have shifted over the years, as explained by The Farmer's Almanac (the timing of Halloween may have had something to do with shifts!), the practice now known as DST has remained the same.
The historical purpose for the time adjustment is often centered around energy conservation, as increased sunlight in the summer means that there's naturally more light at night — which means homes wouldn't have to turn on lights until later. Government officials working in the energy sector have previously released evidence that DST saves a lot of electricity and resources this way.
Believe it or not, 2022 isn't the first time that lawmakers have discussed moving into permanent DST; in 1973, Congress effectively constructed a trial period of year-round DST to conserve energy during a national oil crisis. Americans weren't happy at all with delayed sunrises, and the proposal came to an end in 1975.
Is Daylight Saving Time only used in the U.S.?
As many as 70 different nations observe DST at some point of the year by adjusting their clocks, mostly within North America, Europe and parts of South America. Other leading nations like China, Japan and India had historically attempted to observe DST at one point or another, per the Washington Post, but eventually abandoned these efforts and have remained at a standard time.
You may be surprised to learn that two states, Arizona and Hawaii, passed local legislature to not follow seasonal DST shifts. For as far back as the late 1960s, those living in Arizona have remained at Mountain Standard Time (MST), meaning they're on par with neighboring states like Colorado and New Mexico during the winter and firmly aligned with states in the Pacific Time Zone for the majority of the year.
How eliminating Daylight Saving Time could impact your health:
Energy consumption and conservation may certainly play into whether government officials decide if Americans move away from changing clocks entirely — but there seems to be more emphasis on discussing potential wellness benefits in current debates. Many have touted evidence that the stress of having to internally adjust to abrupt time changes twice a year can impact many already at-risk individuals in unexpected ways; for example, there's been much discussion of a 2014 cardiovascular study published in Open Heart that suggests losing an hour of sleep to kickstart DST is connected to a 25% increase in recorded heart attacks in the first few days after Americans spring forward.
Michael Grandner, Ph.D., a sleep and health research director at the University of Arizona and Casper sleep advisor with ties to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that a majority of experts agree that changing clocks can negatively impact one's sleep hygiene.
"These clock shifts are relatively minor for most people, but they can actually produce negative consequences, especially in people that are vulnerable," he tells Good Housekeeping. "By keeping clocks constant, we don't have to worry about the twice-yearly jolt to our internal clocks that can increase the risk for everything from auto accidents to heart attacks to getting sick."
While there are many individual studies around how DST impacts certain pre-existing conditions in one way or another, there hasn't been comprehensive research into how cutting twice-annual time shifts would benefit physical health — apart from how it would benefit the following areas of your life.
A 2016 statistic from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegged 1 in 3 Americans as getting insufficient sleep for optimal health — a population that may benefit greatly from changing clocks in the long run, explains Rebecca Robins, Ph.D., a division of sleep medicine instructor at Harvard Medical School and sleep expert to Oura.
"This is largely due to the fact that sleep plays a critical role in a variety of domains relating to our health, wellbeing, alertness, and heart health," she says. "Remove one hour and it's enough to have a catastrophic ripple effect in the week following the spring-forward change, whereby we see a statistically significant increase in car accidents and heart attacks."
But permanent DST may not be as beneficial as transitioning into Standard time for all time zones — resulting in earlier sunsets during the spring and summer months — when it comes to more substantial sleep benefits.
Grandner says sticking to Standard time better aligns with internal circadian clocks that are designed to naturally guide people into a healthy sleep routine. It's a position currently supported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which released a statement in October 2020 that argued that DST leads to "circadian misalignment" due to prolonged sunlight in the evening. Crucially, the sun's progression in the morning hours also makes it harder to wake up naturally.
"More light at night may lead people to shift their rhythms later, and therefore delay getting to bed, even if they need to get up at the same time in the morning," Grandner adds. "So [permanent DST] may make it more difficult to get to sleep."
It depends on how committed each individual is to practicing good habits around sleep routines, but there's mounting evidence that overall emotional wellness is tied to enjoying steady sleep on a regular basis. A new survey report conducted by Gallup teams and Casper experts indicated that upwards of 50% of those who reported enjoying a good night's sleep wake up in an "extremely positive" mood compared to just 5% who had underslept or slept poorly. And of respondents who indicated they enjoy "excellent" or "very good" sleep on average, upwards of 85% scored their current happiness levels highly, as opposed to 44% who sleep poorly regularly.
Skipping a known incident that disrupts sleep routines and causes sleep health issues may lead to more Americans enjoying a better sleep routine, and then improving emotional stability, Grandner adds.
Permanent DST may seem extra appealing for those who are affected by what's known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which triggers a pattern of depression-like symptoms tied to fewer hours of sunlight in the winter. But the extra hours of sunlight that DST provides may be added in the wrong direction.
"[Permanent DST] provides less light in the morning, and our body relies on morning light to help set our circadian rhythms," Grander adds. "Getting exposure to morning light has been shown to improve everything from mood to energy levels, to metabolism. The brain is looking for morning light to start the day. Pushing that light off by an hour again misaligned our clock relative to our internal rhythms."
While there has been documented research that suggests Standard time leads to an uptick in depression, there has been some evidence that the depression may be linked to the time shift alone — and that this effect stabilizes over time. A 2017 review published in Epidemiology suggests that an 11% increase in reports of depression symptoms in psychiatric patients faded about 10 weeks after clocks fell back for winter.
In any case, more research is needed to determine if stabilizing the flow of sunrise and sunset for a full calendar year will negatively or positively impact mental health. But experts like Grandner are certain that any opposition to earlier evenings may fade out when sleep routines are stabilized.
"It makes sense why people want more light in the evenings. There are all kinds of social, emotional, behavioral, and other reasons why people would prefer that," he adds. "But the sleep and circadian community have come out in support of standard time because it is better aligned with our own internal clocks and may have positive impacts on health and well-being."
Are we going to end Daylight Saving Time?
Currently, the Sunshine Protection Act sits with the House of Representatives, who have signaled they will spend more time considering it — hearing evidence, expert testimony and input from officials — before asking its members to formally vote to approve or reject it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the press that Congress is spending their time currently considering other issues as more of a priority, including organizing financial aid for Ukraine after Russia's invasion earlier this year.
Ultimately, many Americans may wish to stop changing their clocks — but the current proposal, which promises longer days for those on the Eastern seaboard, may fail to gain support from those on the West Coast, where sunrises will become very late indeed.
It's unclear when the House will put the bill to vote, but if it's approved, it will be sent to President Biden for final approval. The White House has reportedly not shared with the press if it intends to support the proposal into permanent DST. We'll update this story with more information as it becomes available.