I admit that when I wrote last week complaining about the public health downsides created by the annual switch to daylight saving time, I was unaware of the Sunshine Protection Act, even though this bill calling for a permanent switch to daylight saving time (to take effect in November 2023) was about to unanimously pass the Senate. The law, which will affect every American, next awaits what seems to be a clear path to House approval and a presidential signing.
I didn’t know about the bill then, but the news has certainly awakened me now. It should do the same for you, too.
If you read my piece last week, you may recall that I quoted an article from TheConversation.com by Beth Ann Malow, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University and the director of the university’s sleep division. She pointed out that researchers continue to discover that “springing ahead” each March comes with some serious negative health effects. She testified to such findings at a recent Congressional hearing.
“My colleagues and I believe that the science establishing these links is strong and that the evidence makes a good case for adopting permanent standard time nationwide,” she writes.
There exists a fundamental reason for this preference. Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright are marriage and family therapists and co-authors of the forthcoming book “Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough and How We Can Help Them.”
“Daylight saving time isn’t good for us,” the therapists explain in a recent article in The Atlantic. “It’s an artificial jump forward from standard time, which is more aligned with the path of the sun … At noon during standard time, the sun is actually at its highest point in the sky.” It is an important juxtaposition in human alignment.
Turgeon and Wright remind us, “Our bodies evolved, over millions of years, to be exquisitely attuned to the sun’s rhythm. When we wake and see sunlight in the morning, it trips off a cascade of chemicals in our brains that coordinate mental and physical health. Morning sunlight (even through the clouds on a winter day) is vital.”
“We can move the hands on a clock, but we can’t fool the body,” they note. “The shift raises stress levels and inflammation, shortens our sleep, and increases depression. In the week after daylight saving time begins, the incidence of heart attacks and strokes goes up significantly.”
In their rallying cry for embracing the permanent changing of our clocks, lawmakers contend that, aside from avoiding the nuisance of changing them twice a year, the effort could give boost the economy, reports MSN’s Aimee Picchi. In a new release about the bill, lawmakers stress that the Sunshine Protection Act should “boost consumer spending and shift energy consumption by giving Americans an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the workday.”
It is a point with which Turgeon and Wright take exception. “Daylight saving does not actually add sunlight to the equation,” they say. “If the House passes this bill and it becomes law, we’ll face very long, very dark mornings every winter. In some areas of the country — especially those in the westernmost part of each time zone — the sun won’t rise until 9.”
Many experts believe that the energy savings argument is also a questionable one. “The research findings on energy savings — one of the primary reasons supporters suggest making daylight saving time permanent — is mixed,” writes Picchi.
As to the economic benefits of year-round Daylight Savings Time, PNC Financial Services Group economist Kurt Rankin tells MSN they “may be murkier than its supporters suggest.” In an appearance on CBS’ MoneyWatch, Rankin says, “from an economist perspective, I think the benefits will be minimal … It’s not something that is going to cure the woes that are facing the U.S. economy over the next year or two.”
According to the results of a 2019 AP-NORC poll, Americans are divided on the issue. While nearly 3 in 10 people said they would like to have daylight saving time all year round, just as many said they’d prefer to keep the current system. The remaining 4 in 10 people said they wanted to switch to standard time all year, reports Picchi.
While shifting more daylight toward the end of the day could boost demand for certain business services, causing people to perhaps drive more and spend more, it would come at a cost. And lawmakers must be honest about those who will be paying the toll. “Daylight saving time is particularly dangerous for teenagers,” Turgeon and Wright remind us. “(They) are already struggling to stay in sync with the sun.”
“Teens have a natural delay in their biological clock. This phenomenon is seen across cultures — and even across species — and may be evolution’s way of giving teenagers more independence,” they write. “Their melatonin — the drowsiness hormone — rises later in the evening, prompting them to go to sleep later and wake up later than the rest of us. Too-early high-school start times already make healthy sleep difficult for teens, given this natural delay … Modern-day adolescents are already the most sleep-deprived population in human history. By their senior year, high-school kids on average are getting six and a half hours a night, when they should be getting eight to 10 … One in five teens already sleeps five or fewer hours a night.”
They are not the only ones chronically sleep deprived. NPR recently reported on an American Psychological Association study that found that a third of U.S. adults today struggle to get enough quality sleep. While more than half of the people surveyed said that “getting a good night’s rest is a ‘major priority,'” 65% reported that they couldn’t get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep a night. Stress appears to be a large contributor. A recent web-based survey conducted jointly by Gallup and mattress retailer Casper found that nearly 84 million people in this country are “tossing and turning.”
Says Turgeon and Wright: “Our bodies already want to follow the sun. Our clocks should do the same.”