Hundreds of millions of Americans suffer the effects of being forced to move the hands of their clocks back or forth by an hour every year. Daylight saving time ended in the wee hours of Sunday, November 6, except for the residents of Arizona, Hawaii, and the outlying U.S. territories, where people avoid the hassle by remaining on standard time year-round.
The return to standard time (until early March 2024, a mere four months from now) will reset our body clocks (circadian rhythms) to their proper places. As physiological research teaches, body clocks and sleep cycles primarily are regulated by—and adjust to—light and darkness. Standard time helps synchronize body clocks with the sun’s clock.
When it is in effect, daylight saving time disrupts that synchronization. It essentially forces people to move temporarily one time zone to the East; it produces what sometimes is called “social jet lag.” Although our circadian rhythms eventually adapt, abrupt transitions to DST and then back again cause productivity losses in the workplace owing to disturbed sleep cycles. Spikes in heart attacks and strokes, more automobile accidents, more visits to the emergency room, and other untoward effects on health and safety in the short run are well-documented in the relevant literature. Much less is known about the long-run consequences of mandatory twice-yearly time-shifting.
Daylight saving time is misnamed. Absolutely nothing is saved when clocks are moved forward an hour in March. (Or, if so, an hour is “lost” in the spring to “save” one in autumn.) The number of hours of sunlight per day is determined not by timepieces, but by a location’s latitude (distance from the equator) and season of the year.
DST apparently is politically popular. Back in 2023 the U.S. Senate passed by voice vote a bill (the “Sunshine Protection Act”) that would make DST permanent, canceling November 2023’s scheduled return to standard time, thereby keeping clocks one hour ahead year-around nationwide from then on. Although the measure later died in the House of Representatives, bipartisan support for DST from undoubtedly groggy, sleep-deprived senators indicates that many voters are unhappy with the annual ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back.”
I, too, hate being compelled to shift back and forth timewise. Health and economic considerations mean that establishing DST year-round is the wrong choice, something that is painfully obvious to early morning commuters and to parents forced to send their children off to school in the pitch black this time of year. Current federal law (the Uniform Time Act of 1966) allows individual states to opt out of DST and observe standard time all 12 months of the year, but adopting daylight saving time permanently requires congressional approval.
If it had passed, the Sunshine Protection Act would, of course, have forced Arizonans and Hawaiians to toe the DST line, imposing on those states a top-down policy change that certainly would disrupt established custom and might be deeply unpopular.
Shifting sunlight to day’s end probably generates more sales revenue for retailers, the owners of golf courses, and other outdoor venues, especially businesses catering to tourists. One therefore can anticipate opposition to permanent standard time. Whatever harm is done to the special interests by canceling DST forever, though, promises to be more than offset by improved bodily well-being for the rest of us.
This article was adapted from Stop the Madness of Mandatory Time Changes!: Why are we resetting our clocks?, originally appearing on The Beacon