A groggy Senate approves making daylight saving time permanent
By Luke Broadwater and Amelia Nierenberg
After losing an hour of sleep over the weekend, members of the U.S. Senate returned to the Capitol this week a bit groggy and in a mood to put an end to all this frustrating clock changing.
So on Tuesday, with almost no warning and no debate, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to do away with the biannual springing forward and falling back that most Americans have come to despise, in favor of making daylight saving time permanent. The bill’s fate in the House was not immediately clear, but if the legislation were to pass there and be signed by President Joe Biden, it would take effect in November 2023.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., rose on the Senate floor Tuesday to speak in favor of his bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, which would end the practice of turning clocks back one hour to standard time every November, making daylight saving time, which currently begins in March, last throughout the year.
“One has to ask themselves after a while: Why do we keep doing it?” Rubio said, adding, “The majority of the American people’s preference is just to stop the back-and-forth changing.”
When he moved for the bill to pass by unanimous consent, not a single senator objected. But some audibly celebrated.
“Yes!” exclaimed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who flashed a big smile and clenched both her fists in triumph as she presided over the chamber.
Although there was no recorded vote to mark the bill’s passage, there were plenty of speeches made for the Congressional Record. Senators took turns bashing the ritual of changing the clocks — a feature of American life since at least 1918 — blaming it for everything from depression to ruining youth sporting events.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a leading proponent of doing away with the time changes, blamed it for disrupting children’s sleep cycles.
“This past weekend, Americans from Washington state to Florida had to lose an hour of sleep for absolutely no reason,” Murray said. “This is a burden and a headache we don’t need. Any parent who has worked so hard to get a newborn or a toddler on a regular sleeping schedule understands the absolute chaos changing our clocks creates.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., lamented the moment when clocks change to cast New England afternoons in darkness.
“It is a sad time. People are unhappy. It does darken our lives in a very literal sense,” Whitehouse said, adding, “We have sunset in Rhode Island at 4:15 — 4:15!”
(The lawmakers avoided taking shots at Benjamin Franklin, who is often credited as the first to suggest changing clocks to take advantage of early morning sunlight when, in the 18th century, he realized he was wasting his Parisian mornings by staying in bed.)
The senators urged the House to quickly follow their lead and pass the bill, which could prove controversial given long-standing and vibrant disagreements over how to set the nation’s clocks. A spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred a reporter to comments made by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who wrote on Twitter that he was “hopeful that we can end the silliness of the current system soon.”
There is some research to support the senators’ claims that year-round daylight saving time would make people more productive, well rested and happier.
In one 2017 study from Denmark, scientists analyzed a psychiatric database of more than 185,000 people from 1995 to 2012. They found that the fall transition to standard time was associated with an 11% increase in depressive episodes, an effect that took 10 weeks to dissipate. The spring switch, by contrast, had no similar effect.
Retail and leisure industries have argued that more light in the evenings would give consumers more time to spend money, and proponents also argue that lighter evenings would translate to fewer robberies and safer roads.
More than a dozen states have enacted legislation to change to daylight saving time. But it would take an act of Congress to do away with the federally mandated period for daylight saving time, which was created in 1918 by the Standard Time Act, the law that established federal oversight of time zones, and has been adjusted numerous times over the past 100 years.
Sleep scientists, including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, hate the idea of choosing daylight saving time over standard time. While no study has definitively proved that standard time is best for human health, they argue that a permanent switch to daylight saving time could have long-term, dangerous effects on public health.
“We’re disappointed, especially given the overwhelming scientific and health feeling that this is a bad idea,” Dr. Karin Johnson, a member of the board of directors of Save Standard Time and an associate professor of neurology at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate, said Tuesday.
Sleep scientists point out that standard time — winter time — is more closely aligned with the sun’s progression. They say that bright mornings help people wake up and stay alert, while dark nights allow for the production of melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleep. When it is too light at night, it can be hard to fall asleep. When it is too dark in the morning, it can be hard to wake up.
Together, that could lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which has been linked to a range of health conditions, like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Light cues from the sun also regulate metabolism, insulin production, blood pressure and hormones.
“Daylight saving time, in terms of the medical and health consequences, is the worst choice,” said Joseph Takahashi, chair of the neuroscience department at the O’Donnell Brain Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “It leaves us permanently out of sync with the natural environment.”
The country’s clock-changing practices were last altered in 2005, when Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote legislation to extend daylight saving time for several weeks.
On Tuesday, Markey, now a senator, celebrated passage of the new bill by releasing a video on Twitter in which he appeared in front of the Capitol bopping along to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves.
The United States has tried to ditch the clock-switching before, in 1974. But after widespread discontent, the country went back to flipping the clocks twice a year. Russia tried it more recently, too, but ended the policy as public support of the change plummeted.