Is the Senate's Bill to End Time Changes the Right Call?

Sleep specialists believe that circadian rhythms could better align with a move to permanent standard time, not daylight saving time.

A high angle of a young man in bed, covered with a soft gray blanket, clutching a clock. The Senate approve a bill eliminating daylight saving time. Here's what to know about the potential change.
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Changing the clocks could be a thing of the past. After years of serious advocacy and semi-serious but fully hilarious grumbling on social media by the American public, the Senate has finally passed legislation that would make daylight saving time permanent, ending bi-annual time changes. Should the current version of the bill pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Biden, the change will become permanent starting in 2023, meaning that when clocks “spring forward” next March, they would never “fall back” again.

Not only would eliminating the time change save some hassles and sleep loss, it could also go a long way in helping end our national Junk Sleep epidemic. Data from SleepScore Labs showed that two out of three Americans are already sleeping less than the CDC’s recommended seven hours per night for adults, and “springing forward” only makes it worse. According to one study, when we move our clocks ahead, we lose an average of 15-20 minutes of sleep. In another study, people reported a decrease in sleep quality for up to two weeks afterward.

“The loss of that one hour of sleep seems to impact us for days afterwards,” Representative Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee said in a hearing on the issue. “It also can cause havoc on the sleeping patterns of our kids and pets.”

Back in 2020, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 63% of Americans would rather observe a fixed, year-round time than make the twice-yearly adjustments.

But while there is widespread enthusiasm for the elimination of the time change, sleep specialists believe that we should be committing to permanent standard time, rather than permanent daylight saving time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine released a statement cautioning the government to evaluate the benefit of standard time.

What is the difference? Standard time would give us more daylight in the morning, rather than in the evening. And while fans of daylight saving time cite that the change will give children an extra hour of outdoor playtime in the evenings and allow for more light during after-work commutes, there are also serious health benefits to having that additional light in the morning, as standard time would allow.

In fact, standard time can help mitigate some of the public safety issues that have been associated with daylight saving time, like upticks in cardiovascular diseases, fatal traffic accidents, workplace injuries, immune related diseases, and mental and behavior disorders.

“At first, most people would probably say, ‘Yeah, I’d love to have more light in the evenings so I can get out after work,’” says Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist, sleep advisor, and author of “The Sleep Solution" and "The Rested Child," noting that as a night owl, he, too, enjoys longer evenings. “But as a neurologist and sleep specialist, there are psychological and circadian benefits for seasonal affective disorder and overall health to getting that morning light.”

Winter notes that standard time, with more morning light, is better aligned with our natural circadian rhythms, and that getting access to morning light is one of the most important things we can do to give ourselves better sleep at night. When it’s dark in the mornings, that is more challenging, and can leave people more at risk for seasonal affective disorder.

Wondering how dark those darker mornings would be? The Washington Post calculated that with permanent daylight saving time, sunrise would be as late as 8:20 a.m. in New York, 9:06 in Indianapolis, and 8:25 in San Francisco, and parts of Michigan, Montana, and North Dakota wouldn't see sunrise until after 9:30 a.m. on the darkest mornings.

It’s unclear how realistic it is that the chosen time could be switched at this point, but most people agree that, even though the change only shifts by an hour, it’s a win to eliminate changes in general.

“I know this is not the most important issue confronting America,” Senator Marco Rubio, one of the bill’s sponsors, said about the change. “But it’s one of those issues where there’s a lot of agreement.”