In March of 2022, the US Congress made an unprecedented move. The Senate unanimously approved Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Sunshine Protection Act” — a bill intended to end the confusing, chaotic, twice-yearly practice of clock changes across the country. It would do so by extension of Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanently into winter. (The equivalent of DST in Europe is called Summer Time.) The bill’s sudden passage surprised several senators who happened to be absent — by no fault of their own, as the vote was passed by voice consent without prior announcement. Such a procedure is usually reserved for less important matters, as it circumvents the standard committee review of history and evidence. The passage also surprised sleep researchers, circadian biologists, behavioral psychologists, safety experts, educators, parents, and religious leaders who for years have advocated for the exact opposite policy: a restoration of permanent Standard Time.
This bill regrettably is fundamentally flawed. While nearly everyone agrees we should stop switching clocks twice a year, we must think carefully about which clock is best to keep. And we need to educate our lawmakers with strong public advocacy.
Most countries, in fact, observe permanent Standard Time. Standard Time is the clock defined by the sun’s position in the sky, as determined by our longitude (east/west position) on the earth. Standard Time approximates solar time on a global scale for practical scheduling in modern society. It optimizes the alignment of civil clocks to our circadian rhythm — nature’s time-keeping pulse inside every living cell — which is essential for health, mood, safety, and prosperity. Standard Time is the more natural time of the two choices for a permanent clock. It is the clear choice to optimize environmental therapeutics.
Daylight Saving Time arbitrarily offsets Standard Time by a full hour. It is a sort of “vanity sizing” for clocks. Its appeal is that by turning time forward, we get to leave work or school early. Its price is that we must then wake ourselves early for work or school the next day, and indeed every day that we maintain this false clock. We allow this deception to force us to start our days early in summer because that’s when the sun naturally rises early. But extending DST into winter would mean the sun would not rise until after 8:45am in most states, well after most Americans have started work or school. For months on end, permanent DST would have us straining to begin our work and school in the dark, and before our brains and bodies naturally begin to feel awake.
This is not the first time the government has experimented with permanent DST. During World War II and the 1970s Oil Crisis, the scheme was implemented to ration energy, but it was soon reversed. Other countries have also attempted and abandoned this unnatural schedule. In fact, there is little to no evidence that DST saves any energy; indeed, we consume more morning heat when compelled to wake hours before sunrise in winter. More importantly, DST’s circadian misalignment, deprivation of morning sunlight exposure, and chronic loss of sleep increase roadway and workplace accidents, reduce alertness and responsiveness, and increase the frequency of mental and physical disorders.
But while health, safety, education, and the overall economy are best served by permanent Standard Time, there are a few special-interest groups that see a profit potential in DST. Golf associations and chambers of commerce were DST’s original supporters. Their efforts are why this oddity was resurrected from wartime, and why its once summer-only duration was stretched into spring and autumn. Such special-interest groups support many of the bills for permanent DST in state legislatures today, and their support pressures Congress to extend this doomed direction on a national level.
Add to this the common confusion over terminology, the emotional association with summer and winter, and the fact that most public opinion polls have omitted the option of permanent Standard Time, and it isn’t surprising how we got here.
Fortunately, the US House of Representatives is taking a more considered approach than the Senate. In March of 2022, the Energy and Commerce Committee hosted a public hearing on the matter, during which Dr. Beth Malow, an expert in neurology and pediatrics, carefully explained the scientific consensus for permanent Standard Time. Thankfully too, more and more advocates for public wellbeing (notably including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms) are putting in serious effort to educate both legislators and the general public on the scientific rationale for discontinuing, rather than extending, DST. And CET.org has been attentive both to visitors’ questions about problems encountered during DST and summaries for the public (you can search for DST on the site).
Permanent Standard Time would end both the acute harm of clock change and the chronic harm of Daylight Saving Time. It would restore the objectively defined basis for our social schedules, serve to improve sleep and circadian health, while quite literally saving lives and money. Let’s put the failed history of permanent DST behind us once and for all. Ask your state lawmakers and members of Congress for permanent Standard Time, the naturally healthier clock.
Jay Pea is the president of Save Standard Time, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. He is also an amateur astronomer and former software engineer, whose great-grandfather taught him to tell time from the sun.