As a sleep doctor and parent, I think that permanent daylight saving is a terrible idea for kids. Here’s some information on why this is event being considered.
In March, in a rare bipartisan move, the Senate passed a bill, with little warning or debate, called the Sunshine Protection Act. It’s notable that this was put forward by Vern Buchanan, a Florida representative. It’s worth noting that Florida is a state where people can actually spend outside during the evenings in the winter if the sun is out.
What is the argument for changing to permanent DST?
It’s pretty clear that people dislike the ritual of “falling back” in the fall and “springing ahead” in the spring, especially the elderly. As per a recent Monmouth University poll, only 35% of Americans wanted to keep resetting their clocks every fall and spring. And there’s no doubt that there is some sleep difficulty for a week or so after the time shift.
Some of the argument is emotional— who doesn’t like staying out later in the evening when the weather is nice? You can exercise, walk your dog, play with your kids, or sit out on the deck and relax.
Although many articles say that the time shifts with “springing ahead” and “falling back” are associated with car accidents a recent study did not show this to be the case.
There Is also an argument that it reduces energy use, but this does not seem to be the case.
Some industries definitely stand to benefit from permanent DST. Specifically the golf, retail, and candy industries. (Remember when it used to be dark on Halloween? In 2005 DST was extended from last Sunday in October to the first Sunday of November– at least part to allow more trick or treating, and thus more candy sales).
What are the problems with permanent Daylight Saving Time?
Obviously, it’s really nice in the summer to stay outside with natural light longer! (In the winter, however, in the Northeast there is little benefit to this.)
Unfortunately, there is only a finite amount of daytime. So if you make the days “longer”, you are just shifting sunlight from the morning to the evening,
Those of us who study sleep or work with patients with sleep problems are against permanent Daylight Saving Time. Honestly, I think it would be a disaster for kids. There are a few reasons for this.
The first are the safety risks of having children wait for the bus in the dark, where there is a higher likely for getting struck by a car. Let’s look at the concrete effects of this.
Where I live in Connecticut, teenagers would have to wake for school in the dark for almost then entire school year (251 days) and would be arriving to school for 114 days in the dark. This is 110 days more than with the current shift twice a year. (Source:
If you want to see how this would affect kids in your town, use the handy calculator here.
Even outside the safety risk, the lack of morning light exposure in the morning will exacerbate chronic sleep deprivation in teens and many adults. (Here’s an article in the Washington Post where I was quoted on this topic). Morning light exposure is an important circadian signal to your body about when to wake up and when to go to sleep. As children move into adolescence their natural sleep schedule shifts later. Many small children fall asleep between 7:30-8:30pm and wake up between 6 and 7am. In adolescents, the natural sleep schedule shifts two to three hours later. Often this does not mesh well with high school start times. In many districts, high schools are the earliest start times. For some children, this natural shift is exaggerated due to light exposures from electronics resulting in chronic sleep deprivation. The treatment for this is morning light exposure. The lack of natural light until after school starts is likely to result in worsening sleep deprivation in teens.
Going to permanent DST can result in persistent misalignment between human’s body clocks and the natural light cycle. There is evidence (in shift workers) that this can have significant health risks such as stroke and breast cancer.
What happened when permanent Daylight Saving Time was tried in 1973?
Interestingly, this was tried in 1973, but proved so unpopular that the US cancelled the policy after one year. The reason why? People hated getting up in the mornings.
The experiment, however, ran afoul of public opinion—parents became concerned about traffic accidents involving their children, who were going to school in the predawn darkness on winter mornings.(NYTimes Oct 1 1974)
What’s so great about Standard Time?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is in favor of permanent Standard Time, as are many scientists who study sleep medicine. The reason is that the clock time is more closely synchronized to the natural world. Specifically, clock noon is close to solar noon. Why does this matter? This makes it more likely that your body’s natural rhythms will be in sink with the natural world.
Morning light exposure is very helpful to help people keep their body clock from shifting later. In a very real sense, increasing morning light exposure and reducing night time light exposure is very helpful in the prevention and treatment of insomnia.
What’s the problem with what we are doing now?
Currently, these time switches essentially give everyone an hour of virtual jet lag once per year. They cause sleep disruption in kids large and small, and may even make your pet irritable.
So what should we do?
Honestly, I personally don’t mind the status quo that much as I do enjoy longer days in the summer. But if I had to pick permanent Daylight Saving or permanent Standard Time, I would pick permanent Standard Time.
Here’s a great article Dr. Beth Malow wrote about the issues with Daylight Saving Time.
So what’s your take?
Leave a comment below.