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Permanent daylight saving time could have health and economic consequences, experts say

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Key Points
  • On Tuesday, March 15, the Senate unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make daylight saving time permanent.
  • If the Act gets House approval and President Joe Biden's signature, Americans spring forward for the last time in March 2023.
  • When we spring forward, "it affects our attention, our ability to focus, our mood regulation, which can also affect our productivity," says Anita Shelgikar, an associate professor of neurology and director of the sleep medicine fellowship at the University of Michigan.

Switching clocks twice a year may soon be a thing of the past. On March 15, the Senate unanimously passed legislation, called the Sunshine Protection Act, that would move the whole country to daylight saving time permanently.

If the Act gets House approval and President Joe Biden's signature, Americans would fall back this coming November, spring forward in March 2023, and then never change their clocks again.

Roughly 75% of Americans are in favor, saying they would prefer not switching back and forth between standard and daylight saving time, according to a October 2021 survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research which polled over 1,000 adults nationwide.

Not having to spring forward will benefit people, because losing an hour of sleep "affects our attention, our ability to focus, our mood regulation, which can also affect our productivity," says Dr. Anita Shelgikar, an associate professor of neurology and director of the sleep medicine fellowship at the University of Michigan and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation.

'Springing forward' can affect your health and wellbeing

Getting a good night's sleep is more important than most people realize, says Dr. Ilene Rosen, sleep medicine doctor and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Healthy sleep reduces the risk of drowsy driving, workplace accidents, mental health problems such as depression, obesity, and medical conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes."

To be at your best, "the AASM recommends that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health, productivity and daytime alertness," says Rosen.

When our sleep is interrupted by springing forward each year, that "can set us up for two things. One is to be chronically sleep deprived. The other is for something called social jetlag where our internal clock is really kind of out of sync with our external world," she says.

While you may only feel sleep deprived for a few days after the clocks spring forward, the effects aren't temporary or minor, Shelgikar says: "There are some data showing that some people's bodies don't really adjust well, even on a sustained period of time."

Why permanent standard time could be the better choice

Sleep experts say there are drawbacks to choosing permanent daylight saving time rather than permanent standard time, though. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation points out that permanent standard time would mean brighter mornings, so that when most people wake up, the sun is out.

Permanent standard time, rather than daylight saving time, makes more sense because "sunlight is the most powerful regulator of our internal clock," says Shelgikar.

If we switch to permanent daylight saving time, there will be fewer sunlit morning hours for many Americans. In Boston, for example, on January 1 the sun wouldn't rise until 8:45 AM. In California, sunrise would be at around 8:12 AM on the first day of the year.

Productivity could take a hit if the U.S. moves to permanent daylight time

Lots of people are more productive when it's sunny in the morning, says Peter Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research. So, "it's difficult to measure, but surely one of the costs of daylight saving time is reduced productivity among workers in the time period of the changes."

Permanent daylight saving time during winter months may be especially tough, Earle says: "Whether that's working slower, making more errors, or needing that extra cup of coffee, whatever it is, that would be reduced greatly with the adoption of year-round daylight saving time."

Not everyone agrees. Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University, doesn't predict the economy will be affected by a shift to permanent daylight saving time. "We have places on the edge of time zones that are effectively in daylight saving time when we are not. They don't seem to be much different in terms of productivity," she says.

Only time will tell, Earle says. "If [the Sunshine Protection Act] passes, there will be some academic papers in the next few years documenting and attesting to improvements or the lack of improvements in the change," but, he adds, everyone will adjust quickly: "It's going to be forgotten by 99% of humans after six months or a year."

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