Daylight savings debate sparks again as clock changing time returns

Americans’ biannual task of resetting their clocks is approaching again, eight months after the U.S. Senate approved a bill to make daylight saving time permanent and with states eyeing their own options for ending the practice.
The debate over daylight saving time continues in the states and in Congress. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Americans’ semi-annual task of resetting their clocks is approaching again, eight months after the U.S. Senate approved a bill to make daylight saving time permanent and with states eyeing their own options for ending the practice.

It’s a layered debate, requiring a decision on whether or not to end clock-changing and, if so, which time format to make permanent.

In the past five years, 19 states enacted legislation or passed resolutions to provide for year-round daylight saving time, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since 2015, 450 bills and resolutions have been introduced in nearly every state to make either standard or daylight saving time permanent.

While states have sought to take control over their respective times, federal law prohibits states from switching to permanent daylight saving time. They can opt independently to observe permanent standard time, as do Arizona and Hawaii.

“I think each state should really look at it closely,” time activist Scott Yates said in an interview.

Colorado was the latest state to enact permanent daylight saving time, with the bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis (D) in June. Five enacted laws in 2021: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Minnesota and Montana.

Yates, who writes #LockTheClock blog, which labels itself, “The official site of the movement to quit changing clocks in and out of DST,” has spoken to about 14 state legislatures on the issue. He said he doesn’t favor daylight saving over standard time but does believe the switching should stop.

In March, the U.S. Senate approved a bill authored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would lock in permanent daylight saving time for the country and give states time to opt out for those that choose to do so. But it is still to be determined if the House will act to approve the measure in the lame duck.

After the Senate adopted the bill, some senators regretted that there was no debate on the issue. It passed without a vote, by what is known as unanimous consent, typically reserved for non-controversial bills.

A Monmouth University poll that month showed that only 35% of those surveyed want to continue to reset their clocks twice a year. Of those who wanted to end the practice, 44% wanted light later in the day, which daylight saving time provides, to the 13% who wanted more light earlier in the day, which comes with standard time.

Yates said the answer to which is better “could well be different” depending on one’s region of the country, so “it makes sense to have each individual state legislature look at it.”

Dr. Beth Malow, a sleep expert at Vanderbilt University, agrees that states should be masters of their own time but said permanent standard time is the best from a health perspective.

“It really should be left up to the states because there are so many regional differences,” Malow said in an interview. “I think this is one of those issues where it makes sense to look at the region because the north and the south are very different.”

Malow said standard time provides the morning light that significantly contributes to well-being and health. Under daylight saving, darker mornings could negatively affect mood and exacerbate some serious illnesses. At the same time, lighter evenings mean less sleep because that light can suppress the melatonin levels needed to fall asleep.

“What happens if you’ve got this kind of misalignment where your body’s on one clock and the outside environment is on another?” Malow said. “What we found is that that’s associated with not just losing sleep, which we know can lead to obesity, diabetes, and mood problems, but it can also lead to even heart disease and some forms of cancer can be exacerbated by … getting light too late at night and getting darkness in the morning.”

Malow said the misalignment is informally known as social jetlag.

“We’re not really moving to another part of the world or are flying on an airplane,” Malow said. “But we are, in some sense of the word, still jet-lagged socially because we have this disconnect between our clocks and what’s going on in the outside world.”

Steve Calandrillo, who teaches law at the University of Washington, also wants to stop the clock switching but argues for going to permanent daylight saving. Both Calandrillo and Malow testified at a congressional hearing on the issue in March.

Calandrillo said permanent daylight saving would save lives because the darkness in the evening is more dangerous than darkness in the morning. It would help lower crime because criminals like to operate in the dark hours, save energy costs by having the sun out longer in the evening, and allow for more commerce because people are more likely to shop and recreate in the light hours, he says.

“Recreation and commerce flourish in evening sunshine: people feel safer going out to shop, walk, play, etc. in the evening when the sun is still out,” Calandrillo said.

He said he doesn’t believe that states should make their own decisions. “There’s a lot to be said for uniformity in that it encourages and eases both commercial and social interactions and helps avoid confusion,” he said.

Erik Herzog, a Washington University in St. Louis biologist who studies circadian rhythms in mammals, said the details would matter to individuals and the geographic realities of each state.

“When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of, ‘When would you like the sun to rise … at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.?’” Herzog said. “There are folks who say ‘Well, I like my afternoons bright’ and others who say, ‘Well, it’s really important to get light in the morning.’ And if you live in Florida vs. Minnesota, the timing is really different.”

For now, most Americans will simply reset their clocks again Sunday.