Why Isn’t Daylight Saving Time Permanent? Experts Weigh In.

One specific time is better for our mental health, according to data. So why do we keep switching the clocks?
Some officials are trying to eliminate the process of changing our clocks each fall and spring. Here’s why it hasn’t been implemented yet.
Carol Yepes via Getty Images
Some officials are trying to eliminate the process of changing our clocks each fall and spring. Here’s why it hasn’t been implemented yet.

This past weekend, we turned our clocks back one hour, gaining a bit more sleeping time (unless you have little kids, that is) and officially putting a seasonal end to daylight saving time.

As is always the case when the clocks change, folks around the country and online initiate conversations about the need to turn daylight saving time into our permanent modus operandi instead of ending it every fall (known as going to standard time). This is mostly because daylight saving time guarantees more sunshine toward the end of the day, a fact that experts stress can help with seasonal depression.

Talks regarding the topic have gotten so intense that politicians have even introduced bills attempting to make daylight saving irreversible. Back in March 2022, the United States Senate went as far as passing the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021.

“The call to end the antiquated practice of clock changing is gaining momentum throughout the nation,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the time in an official statement.

This year, Rubio re-introduced what is now referred to as the Sunshine Protection Act of 2023 to the 118th Congress. “This ritual of changing time twice a year is stupid,” the GOP lawmaker said in a statement. “Locking the clock has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support. This Congress, I hope that we can finally get this done.”

To pass on a federal level and become a widespread norm, the bill must first be cleared by the U.S. House of Representatives and then signed into law by the president of the United States. If that were ever to happen (it hasn’t yet), our clocks would permanently move an hour forward ― like we do every spring ― making daylight saving time our new forever normal.

It all begs the question: If there has been this much supposed political support and public momentum behind the initiative, why haven’t we been able to make the change permanent so far?

Here’s why we change our clocks in the first place.

The overall idea is that people prefer to do things in daylight, so “extending” the day by an hour could be beneficial to just about anyone.

However, that’s not exactly the case. Farmers, for example, have been famously opposed to daylight saving time because it disrupts their usual schedule.

Historically, those arguing that daylight saving time should be turned permanent have brought up potential energy-saving measures as major benefits to the practice.

“Household lighting and electricity use is one of the biggest energy savers,” explained Nick Loris, economist and VP of public policy at C3 Solutions. Basically, the longer there is sunshine outside, the less likely you are to turn on your lights at home, therefore saving energy.

However, there have been studies pointing to the flaws of that view.

“If people are going out after work ― driving to restaurants or going to the mall, for example ― they are using more gasoline than they otherwise might, so that reduces some of the energy savings,” Loris explained. “Also, technology has vastly improved the efficiency of our appliances, so families are saving less than they used to from daylight saving time. The way we use energy is much different than our parents and grandparents, which, again, makes the energy savings argument a little dubious.”

Who wants daylight saving time to become the norm?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the past six years, a total of 19 states have tried to adopt daylight saving time all year around, passing resolutions confirming their position. However, until a similar law is passed on a federal level, local states cannot alter the way the system currently works.

Retailers, in particular, tend to approve of the proposed changes because, according to Loris, “more light means people are willing to shop or hang out after work rather than just go home” and, as a result, are more likely to visit retail-adjacent destinations.

When it gets darker, people are less likely to spend money. “Studies have shown that even groceries and fuel shopping goes down when daylight saving ends,” Loris said.

Loris noted that additional evening light has been associated with specific health benefits (“kids play outside more, it helps with seasonal depression”) and public safety concerns (the longer it is light out, the less dangerous not being home might be).

According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, mental health distress increases among the population during the times of the year characterized by reduced hours of sunlight.

“With fewer sun time hours, clients will be particularly vulnerable to emotional distress,” according to Mark Beecher, clinical professor and licensed psychologist in New York University Counseling and Psychological Services and one of the scientists behind the study.

What are the downsides of daylight saving time?

Loris conceded that lighter nights come with darker mornings and, therefore, sometimes unpleasant situations: Students going to school and commuters heading to work during pitch-black morning hours may have to confront other safety issues, for example.

Parents of school-aged children have become pretty loud voices in the debate, arguing that the full-time adoption of daylight saving time will bring several safety issues when it comes to morning commutes to school.

Sleep patterns are another downside. A total of two states just stay on standard time all year long: Arizona and Hawaii. Although there are a number of reasons behind the states’ decision, it seems like a lot of it is based on what the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has been saying for years: Living off standard time might be healthier for the human body.

“Current evidence best supports the adoption of year-round standard time, which aligns best with human circadian biology and provides distinct benefits for public health and safety,” reads an official statement by the organization.

To put it simply, daylight saving time means more darkness in the morning and light in the early evening, which would go against our bodies’ natural rhythms.

Will one time schedule ever get implemented?

As of now, although several states have passed their own propositions to make daylight saving time permanent, the federal government has yet to take on the issue.

Every few months, when the designated days to switch our clocks approach, conversations about the issue abound in Congress, but just a few weeks later, as we get used to the new normal, all such discussions seem to die down—case in point: The Sunshine Protection Act has yet to reach the House of Representatives.

“It just doesn’t seem to be a priority issue,” Loris said. “We talk about it twice a year, and then it’s largely forgotten about until it’s time to spring forward or fall back again.”

So, the hold-up is within the government. Officials have to first choose whether to implement a never-changing time system and, following that matter, opt for which frame to use permanently: standard time or daylight saving time.

If the past few years are of any indication, we’re still a long way from either decision, as the lobby groups behind each camp have enough of a case to stall conversations until the next season.

For now, we’ll just keep Googling ways not to feel jet-lagged every six months after we change our clocks.

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