- The Sunshine Protection Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in March 2022, would enact daylight saving time permanently—clocks would indefinitely be one hour ahead of the sun.
- 61% of people do not like switching between permanent standard time and daylight saving time.
- Experts agree that permanent daylight saving time provides the possibility for a decline in the public’s sleep health.
Most Americans are preparing to spring their clocks forward this Sunday for the beginning of daylight saving time. But some members of Congress are working to pass legislation that would make this “spring forward” the last one, even against the wishes of the healthcare community.
The Sunshine Protection Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in March 2022, would enact daylight saving time permanently—clocks would indefinitely be one hour ahead of the sun. But many sleep experts agree that permanent daylight saving may not be what’s best for our health.
“The concern with daylight saving time is that there is a mismatch between our internal clock and the time of the world around us,” Anita Shelgikar, MD, sleep neurologist at the University of Michigan Health, professor of neurology, and director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at the University of Michigan Medical School, told Health.
The biggest concern with this proposition is a possible negative impact on sleep. People may struggle to get out of bed in the morning when it’s still dark outside, and may also have a hard time going to sleep at night if it’s still light out, noted Dr. Shelgikar.
Still, the Sunshine Protection Act is supported broadly by members of Congress across the aisle, and a large portion of Americans seem to be on board as well—a 2022 poll found that 61% of people do not like switching between permanent standard time and daylight saving time. Of the group that would prefer doing away with switching the clocks, 44% are in favor of permanent daylight saving.
Here’s what experts had to say about the future of the Sunshine Protection Act, how sunlight has an effect on health, and ways to optimize sleep throughout the year.
A Popular Proposal With Possibly Unhealthy Results
Congress first enacted permanent daylight savings in January 1974. But that winter, many Americans had to commute in the dark, Dr. Shelgikar explained. Eight kids were even hit by cars on their way to school, prompting widespread pushback. Permanent daylight savings was ended in October of that same year.
Since then, the U.S. has switched back and forth between standard and daylight saving time, but now the question of committing to one time setting over the other is back in the national spotlight.
While the Sunshine Protection Act wasn’t brought up for a vote in the House even after being passed in the Senate last year, Senator Marco Rubio recently reintroduced the bill with hopes that the measure could pass into law.
A 2022 CBS poll found that, among those people who prefer daylight saving time, about half said that daylight saving put them in a better mood and made them feel more productive in the afternoon hours. There’s also the idea that it helps save energy, or could encourage people to be more active, though research has found these differences to be minimal.
These sentiments are reflected in the language of the Senators who’ve supported it, too—Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said the bill would “deliver more sun, more smiles, and brighter skies.”
Though people feel better during the summer months, permanent daylight saving may actually increase the wintertime blues overall, explained Sabra Abbott, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology in sleep medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“It just so happens that when we’re on daylight saving time, it’s also during the time when days are longer. So everybody gets more light no matter where it is,” Dr. Abbott told Health. “The problem is, you look at permanent daylight saving time—the lack of morning light that would occur in the winter is associated with increased rates of depression.”
The only real measurable benefits are likely economic, she explained.
“People may go out and spend more money if it’s still light when they get off of work,” Dr. Abbott continued. “In terms of a health standpoint, we don’t actually think that this is the best way to set up our schedules.”
Permanent Standard Time Aligns Our Bodies With the Sun
Though experts agreed daylight saving doesn’t necessarily offer any health benefits for Americans, the current system has some issues as well.
“Biologically the brain does not let you simply shift your sleep by one hour,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, clinical professor in the division of sleep medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, told Health. “People lose sleep with daylight savings. And again, we’re a sleep-deprived country already.”
In the days after daylight saving time begins, Americans may see more fatal car accidents, higher risk of ischemic stroke risk and hospital admission for atrial fibrillation, especially for older women. And the Monday after daylight saving starts typically sees more heart attacks than other days that week.
Instead of ditching this system in favor of permanent daylight saving, healthcare professionals believe the opposite approach would be the best course of action—permanent standard time.
“We have our internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm,” Dr. Shelgikar explained. “Having that exposure to light first thing in the morning—again, which happens most seamlessly when our clocks are set to standard time—that is the most powerful regulator of our internal clock.”
When people’s internal clocks are misaligned with the sun, it makes it harder for them to go to sleep and wake up each day. The body’s circadian rhythm is also involved with digestion, blood pressure control, hormonal regulation, and other bodily processes, so it’s possible that being off from the sun could impact these areas as well, Dr. Shelgikar said.
Dr. Abbott agreed, “Our bodies are sort of regulated by social cues—so when we actually set our clocks—but really we tend to follow the sunshine.”
The Future of Time Setting Still Remains Up in the Air
With the reintroduction of the Sunshine Protection Act, it’s likely that the House may see a bit more back and forth before coming to an agreement.
In addition to more lobbying efforts from health groups, permanent daylight saving would have varying degrees of drawbacks depending on where in the country a person lives. In Boston, Massachusetts for example, if a person woke up at 7:00 AM each morning, they’d wake up before sunrise 148 days out of the year.14 Someone in Cincinnati, Ohio would wake up in darkness 231 days a year.
While the fate of the bill is still unknown, daylight saving time is beginning on Sunday, and experts say it’s smart to prepare yourself for what could be a rough night’s sleep.
It’s best to start preparing now, Dr. Shelgikar said. Try to ease into daylight saving time by going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier on the days before the time change. But both Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Abbott agree that going to bed earlier than normal is really challenging for our bodies—don’t be surprised if a plan to go to bed early doesn’t work out.
Dr. Pelayo noted that the day after the time change, people should prepare to feel a bit sleep deprived, grouchy, or unfocused. It may be helpful to give yourself and others a bit of grace after the daylight saving time jump, he encouraged, including being extra careful on the roads and bracing yourself for less friendly, less productive coworkers or family members.
If sleeping becomes a challenge throughout daylight saving time, however, it’s best to see a sleep medicine specialist. Adults should be getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, Dr. Shelgikar added, regardless of when the clocks are set.