A bill to make daylight savings time permanent is now in Congress, here’s why

What a surprise. Another bill remains filibustered in Congress. This time it’s the Sun Protection Act of 2021, a bill that would make daylight saving time (DST) the new permanent time all year long. This will help you and your body avoid the clock shuffle that occurs in most parts of the United States twice a year, such as the clock loss that occurred last March and the clock gain that is scheduled to occur tomorrow, November 6 at 2 am. This is assuming the United States has not exploded in a ball of partisan fire before then. As nonpartisan an action as it can get, such an action may seem as neither Democrats nor Republicans see a compelling reason to repeal such a law. But the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 may now highlight another kind of persistent partisan divide: Morning Larks versus Night Owls.

After all, removing the time keys is probably not the most controversial aspect of this code. Chances are most people don’t say, “I really like the changes of the clock and miss all my appointments like my cat’s manicure does after Sunday and Monday.” Perhaps they don’t stress, “It’s such a mess in my sleep after each switch and the disorientation that results right after. Why travel, when you can experience jet lag in the comfort of your own home? It adds to the mystery of life.” In fact, a YouGov poll, conducted March 16-20, revealed that 64% of Americans surveyed in the US would prefer to ditch the twice-yearly clock change.

There was a slightly different opinion when it came to choosing the new permanent time: DST versus the current standard time. A majority (53%) favored making daylight saving time, clock settings that typically began in March and ended in November each year, permanent. Compare this to 32% who preferred making standard time, where the clock settings are currently maintained during the fall and winter months, permanently. The results fell somewhat along the lines of the Morning Lark vs. the Night Owl, also known as the wrong vs. the right lines from a Night Owl perspective. Among adults who start weekdays before 6 a.m. WTF, 38% choose to make standard time permanent, compared to 25% of those who start weekdays after 8 a.m.

Morning Larks, also known as Morning People or people who aim to make the lives of Night Owls miserable, are people who like to get up early and go to bed early. By contrast, Night Owls, otherwise known as Night People or Cool People, are people who tend to get up and go to bed later, otherwise known as the not-so-silly wee hours. Those in certain professions such as doctors, fitness instructors, baristas at Starbucks, and collectors of trash and recyclables tend to start earlier while others such as those in the arts, entertainment, and research tend to start later. Of course, there is variety in every profession and one size does not fit all.

This bill, passed by the US Senate on March 15, 2022, nearly a year after it was introduced on March 9, 2021, will make daylight savings time, yes, permanent. If the bill is passed and signed into law by the President of the United States, the United States will no longer have to disrupt the mind and body of the “spring forward, step back” thing every year from November 5, 2023 onwards. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Well, the words “straight forward” and “congress” might go together as well as the words “bladder full” and “roller coaster.” Instead of “moving forward” with this bill, the House appears to be “falling back” on old habits. The bill has languished in the so-called lower chamber of Congress for more than seven months now, and the Nutella waterfall of lobbying efforts has consumed it.

There was hope that the bill would pass quickly in the House of Representatives after it gained significant bipartisan support in the Senate. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the sponsor of the bill, which was co-sponsored by 18 in a Senate of 10 Republicans and eight Democrats. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate, which doesn’t happen very often these days, unless the need for the bill is as clear as a bill declaring that chocolate is a good thing to have or that an alien laser didn’t cause. California wildfires. (Well, the second might not have unanimous support in the House.) So the Senate resolution suggested that the bill would not hit barriers in the House.

But then reality hit. And reality can often bite, as suggested by the title of the 1994 rom-com that starred Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Stiller. Some members of the House of Representatives began to question the proceedings in the Senate and urged the need for more discussion before a decision could be made. When members of Congress try to rein in a legislative process, you figure some lobbyist has gotten to them somewhere. In this case, the lobbyists could come from a particular party: Morning Larks.

Yes, Morning Larks are the ones who have showered our society with early morning propaganda like the “early bird gets the worm” quotes when you wonder who wants worms? And how about they push Ben Franklin’s dictum that “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” instead of Banksy’s quote that warns, “People who get up early in the morning cause war, death, wisdom, and famine.” There is no real clear scientific evidence whether it is better to be a morning lark or a night owl. It’s kind of a chocolate vs. cheese, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, and Britney vs. Christina debate. It really looks like more than just personal makeup and preference. Morning Larks would argue that mornings are quiet and peaceful, allowing you to collect your thoughts before the whistle begins for the day. However, this ignores the fact that the night can be quiet and peaceful as well, allowing you to count all the whistling that happened to you throughout the day. Plus, compared to the full array of late-night TV, there’s not much to watch on early morning TV unless you want to watch four episodes in a row of Charm on me TNT.

Making daylight saving time permanent would help those interested in getting more daylight in the 4:30 PM to 9 PM range year-round. This means that people will be less likely to walk out of work or school at the end of the day in complete darkness. Now one could argue that more daylight during the 4:30pm to 9pm time range would benefit everyone because practically everyone is awake during this time, except for those who call it a day after watching People’s Court on TV at 5 p.m. Having daylight savings time throughout the year will extend the sunshine hours most businesses will operate in, assuming most businesses stay open in the 9am-9pm timeframe.

By contrast, making standard time permanent will add more daylight to the early morning, from 5:30am to 8am. This, in turn, will benefit those people, professions, religious groups, and organizations that work most in such an early morning timeframe. Rumor has it that some people are actually awake and active and doing their work during these hours but this has not been fully confirmed as it would require being awake during those hours.

So is this primarily a Morning Lark vs. Night Owl debate? Well, some seem to be waving around the “S” word to support one side, claiming that scientific evidence supports keeping standard time all year long. For example, a letter from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). The Society for Behavioral Sleep Medicine (SBSM) and the Society for Research in Circadian Rhythms (SRBR) have claimed that “there is strong scientific and medical evidence supporting permanent standard time. Evidence for maintaining standard time also includes the rapid repeal of permanent daylight saving time in the past due to public safety concerns during the morning commute the dark days required by daylight saving time.

This argument assumes, of course, that most people get up and move around earlier in the morning as doctors often do. In the medical profession, 6 a.m. meetings are not unusual, while for many other people, the only thing you might meet at that time is a toilet bowl. Furthermore, this joint AASM-SBSM-SRBR statement simply focused on the sunrise part of the day and ignored the other end of the day: sunset. What about what might happen on a dark evening (or even late afternoon) or kids out in the dark shortly after school?

The statement also omitted the scientific evidence that supported the maintenance of daylight savings time throughout the year. For example, a meta-analysis conducted by Douglas Cott, PhD, and Sarah Markowitz, PhD, of Rutgers University at the time and published in the journal Analysis and prevention of accidents It was estimated that “daylight savings time for an entire year would reduce pedestrian deaths by 171 per year, or 13% of all pedestrian fatalities in the 5:00-10.00 am period and in the 4:00-9:00 pm periods. Vehicle occupant fatalities would be reduced increased by 195 per year, or 3%, over the same time periods.”

The AASM-SBSM-SRBR statement also mentioned “the rapid repeal of permanent daylight saving time in the past” as evidence. However, how a brief attempt about 50 years ago to establish DTS over the course of a year would serve as compelling evidence. Anything that got canceled quickly by definition didn’t last long enough to know what would have happened if people had had enough time to get used to the change. Any change from the current situation is likely to affect people’s moods and potentially cause accidents in the short term.

Moreover, as a reminder, the United States is not the only country on earth. A lot of different countries regularly see different ranges of daylight hours than the US, but it seems to work just fine. Therefore, stating that “there is strong scientific and medical evidence to support” any given time standard seems a little exaggerated.

It is a little surprising that the AASM would take such a strong stance on this issue, rather than recognizing the heterogeneity and diversity that exists within the population. While there are general principles to follow, such as sleep is good and having a bull in your bed may interfere with your sleep, the science doesn’t necessarily support mandating the same range of sleeping and waking hours for everyone. However, according to Dan Diamond writing for Washington Postthe AASM is pouring time, effort and money into its lobbying for Standard Time efforts, spending about $130,000 in the third quarter of 2022. One has to wonder why such lobbying has become a priority for the AASM and whether this is anywhere near to being the biggest problem Sleep Americans are facing right now.

One size fits all rarely works when it comes to health issues. Just like one diet, one type of physical activity, and one set of mental health approaches don’t work for everyone, one set of hours of sleep probably won’t work for everyone. In the end, it’s not clear if there’s really strong medical evidence to make daylight saving time permanent versus standard time. One thing that is clear is that clock changes can disrupt sleep and lead to some health issues like accidents and poor health outcomes like heart attacks as your body and mind adjust to the new time. It is basically jet lag without the benefit of actually traveling to a new place. In the end, debating daylight saving time versus standard time may be an operational and logistical matter. The Department of Transportation is going to run a study that won’t be ready until after December 31, 2023. So for now, expect the House to sleep on this bill.


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