Are we stuck with daylight saving time, or can we get rid of it?

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Everyone seems to hate daylight saving time. Do we even need it, and why is it so hard to get rid of?

Shifting the clocks messes with people’s circadian rhythms — making everyone groggy, cranky and sometimes dangerously off their game.

Everyone seems to hate daylight saving time. Do we even need it, and why is it so hard to get rid of?
THE NEWS

Hello darkness, my old end-of-the-workday friend. Standard time resumes in the U.S. Sunday, pushing — as the “fall back, spring forward” saying reminds — sunset and sunrise one hour earlier.

The official change occurs when 2 a.m. EDT falls back to 1 a.m. EST (or your time zone’s equivalent). Every state, except most parts of Arizona and Hawaii, observe daylight saving time. Daylight saving time (DST) was initially implemented as an emergency energy-saving measure during the world wars, but it stuck around, even if we’re all very sleepy because of it.

But do we actually need it anymore? Because, for the love of humanity, a whole lot of us would like to see it gone.

Pushing back the clock in winter is meant to give schoolchildren more morning sunlight on the way to school and to ensure more daylight during working hours for construction workers and other outdoor laborers. But whether the benefits in safety and energy savings outweigh the costs of shifted sleep cycles, drowsy commuters and confusion from misaligned clocks is a long-running source of disagreement.

THE CONTEXT

While recognized by most states, the current November-to-March return to standard time was only set by federal law in 2007. But there’s been a growing movement calling for ditching fall back and sticking with spring forward. Last year, the Senate unanimously voted to make daylight saving time permanent, but the legislation has been stuck in the House ever since, and it’s unclear if it will budge.

Who’s going to win this argument? The scales seem to be leaning toward a year-round daylight saving time clock — but (and sorry about this) only time will tell.

HEALTH LENS

The time shift isn’t great for your body — and is potentially dangerous

Fundamentally, shifting the clocks either way confounds people’s circadian rhythms, the 24-hour schedule followed by the metabolism that tells you when to eat, sleep, work and relax.

A rule of thumb is that for every hour that your sleeping time shifts, it takes a day to adjust, which means unless you want to have trouble getting to sleep on the Sunday night before your workweek starts (because your body will feel like it’s too early to get some shuteye), you might want to shift your clock back and go to bed earlier this Saturday instead.

Health-wise, the (immediate) good news is that the serious health effects are associated with the “spring forward” shift. Fatal car accidents increase around 6 percent on the days after that shift, for example. Heart attack rates go up as well, with studies finding a relative risk increase of 4 to 29 percent. There is also evidence for increased strokes, missed doctor’s appointments and even suicides.

Although many of the calls for abolishing the twice-yearly time change aim to make daylight saving time the permanent standard — arguing mainly that more evening light promotes physical and mental health — the American Academy of Medicine in a 2020 statement called for a permanent shift to standard time. Those hours of daylight better align with normal human circadian rhythms, which take their cues from sunlight exposure, the academy said.

— Dan Vergano

ECONOMIC LENS

The saving energy argument doesn’t really hold up

Energy consumption plays a pretty significant role in the discussion over whether to try to “save daylight” by taking out an hour in the spring — pushing back on the clock when it gets dark — and then “falling back,” so that the sun then rises “earlier.” People’s schedules are based on the clock, but the sun is doing its own thing. Daylight saving reapportions lightness and darkness ratios, so people have more waking/productive hours when it’s light out (and less electricity needed).

For that reason, DST has often been justified as an energy conservation measure, all the way back to World Wars I and II with national DST measures going into effect during World War I and World War II. But does it work?

The research says it actually doesn’t. Two economists, Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant, looked at the effects of DST on energy use after Indiana passed a law in 2006 mandating a statewide clock change in Indiana. Of the 7 million households included in the study, the researchers found that using DST actually increased electricity demand, with fall usage going up between 2 and 4 percent and overall use by 1 percent.

While DST worked to decrease the amount of energy people used for lighting, they found it increased when it came to air conditioning.

The economists explained that because peoples’ schedules don’t change, when daylight saving time is implemented in the spring, people still cool their homes in the evening, and evening hours are warmer.

There also appear to be more direct economic effects. One paper by Mark J. Kamstra, Lisa A. Kramer and Maurice D. Levi found that the returns in financial markets over daylight saving weekends “is markedly lower than expected.”

The economists also cite a bevy of research and historical data showing the negative effects of lost sleep, including some major ones — “the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the near meltdown at Three Mile Island, the massive oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.”

That means on daylight saving weekends, returns are predictably lower than than the average regular weekend for every index they looked at, the researchers found. And “the magnitude of the mean return on spring daylight saving weekends … [is] between two to five times … that of ordinary weekends.” And get ready: “The effect of the daylight saving time change on returns is even stronger in the fall.”

— Matthew Zeitlin

POLICY AND DATA LENS

People want to get rid of changing the clock, but a federal law can’t seem to make it through

For years, ending daylight saving time has been a pet project for a handful of Capitol Hill lawmakers who would like to nix the practice. But it didn’t make headway in Congress until last spring, when the Senate surprisingly passed a bill getting rid of daylight saving time just a couple days after the annual March “spring forward” jolt in the clocks.

An unusual bipartisan duo of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) co-sponsored the bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, arguing it could help the economy and public health.

“If we can get this passed, we don’t have to keep doing this stupidity anymore,” Rubio said when promoting the bill on the Senate floor. The bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent, meaning no senators objected to its passing.

The Sunshine Protection Act didn’t go far in the House, where bigger legislative priorities and skepticism from some members of Congress led it to stall. Right now, hopes of it passing during this Congress are slim.

But 59 percent of people across the U.S., according to a YouGov poll from March, support ditching the clock change in favor of permanent daylight saving time. Some states are heeding that public interest and starting to evaluate their relationship with the practice on the state level. Arizona and Hawaii currently don’t observe daylight saving time at all, and at least 19 states have adopted resolutions or legislation to make daylight saving permanent — a show of their support on the issue.

— Maggie Severns and Anna Deen

GLOBAL LENS

Not all countries use daylight saving, but for different reasons

Countries such as South Africa and Peru don’t need the extra hour of light in the morning — the closer you get to the equator, the less difference in amount of sunlight throughout the seasons.

Mexico just got rid of its daylight saving, but not because of the country’s location. The Mexican congress voted against it in October (40 percent said no to the time change, 35 percent wanted to keep it) citing the right to health and safety, as well as electric energy savings.

Brazil had daylight saving, ditched it and now wants it back. Soon-to-be former president Jair Bolsonaro eliminated daylight saving in 2019, saying that energy savings were not significant enough, and many Brazilians found themselves commuting in the dark. Only two years later, in 2021, turning back the clock was up for debate again (and still is) after a severe drought in the country, which depends mainly on hydraulic energy, showed how, in this case, important those savings really were.

And here is some global cocktail party trivia for you: South Korea officially does not have daylight saving — except there was that one time. To accommodate international broadcasting during the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, the country turned its clocks back an hour. The same was proposed in Japan for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but this time, it was in order to prevent athletes from overheating. Japan, unlike South Korea, declined.

Ultimately, just like in the U.S., it’s a matter of constant debate in many countries — and for various reasons. South African researchers, for example, believe that implementing daylight saving could save them 0.2 to 0.5 percent of energy every year. Still, the country chooses not to observe it.

Mariana Labbate

PARENTING LENS

Daylight saving changes really are disruptive for small children

Parents of the littlest of littles dread daylight saving time changes. That’s because young children need lots of sleep and often don’t adapt well to sudden changes in routine.

Research in this space is quite thin, but a 2019 study published in the journal Sleep found that changes in the clock usually result in a loss of sleep for kids, with longer and greater disruptions happening among infants and young kids.

The springtime change to daylight saving is less disruptive — with kids losing usually only 15-20 minutes of sleep. But, sorry parents, the fall time change on Sunday is the bad one. It can affect children’s sleep anywhere from seven to 28 days after the time change — although most toddlers do seem to average out around four days.

One option is to start readjusting bedtimes by 30 minutes three days ahead of the time change. That is, for parents who are organized enough to remember there is a time change coming up.

The only other real science about daylight saving and kids readily available was a 2014 meta study of nine countries that showed that more daylight evening hours (when daylight saving is in effect) tends to coincide with more physical activity for young children in the late afternoon and evenings, particularly for boys, and even adjusting for weather conditions (though the effect was much smaller in the U.S. than in Europe and Australia). As someone who takes her kids to the playground after school when it’s light out, this makes perfect sense.

— Kay Steiger

  • Dan Vergano
    Dan Vergano

    Science Reporter

    Dan Vergano is a science reporter for Grid.

  • Matthew Zeitlin
    Matthew Zeitlin

    Domestic Economics Reporter

    Matthew Zeitlin is an economics reporter at Grid focused on the domestic impact of major stories such as coronavirus, the supply chain and economic volatility.

  • Maggie Severns
    Maggie Severns

    Domestic Policy Reporter

    Maggie Severns is a policy reporter for Grid covering complex policy stories and major headlines.

  • Mariana Labbate
    Mariana Labbate

    Global Editorial Assistant

    Mariana Labbate is the editorial assistant for Grid's Global team.

  • Kay Steiger
    Kay Steiger

    Managing Editor

    Kay Steiger is the managing editor at Grid.

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