Every year, millions of people in the United States sigh and begrudgingly set their clocks backward one hour on the first Sunday of November and forward one hour on the second Sunday of March, all in service of daylight saving time — gaining or losing an hour of sleep in the process. Now a majority of Americans say they’ve had enough and are ready to ditch the biannual custom.
A recent survey commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found that 6 in 10 Americans (64%) support eliminating seasonal time changes, with 27% of respondents saying public health and safety was the top factor for elected officials to consider when discussing legislation about daylight saving time.
The daylight saving ritual has been practiced (and often despised) in the U.S. since it was first introduced, in 1918, as a way to conserve energy during World War I — though subsequent studies have found little or no energy conservation benefit. Contrary to popular belief, it was not advocated for by farmers, who found the biannual changes to their workday disruptive and called for repealing daylight saving time in 1919. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 made daylight saving time more standardized nationwide, and today most of the U.S. — with the exception of Hawaii, Arizona and many U.S. territories — observes the twice-yearly changing of the clocks.
But many Americans are fed up, and a bipartisan bill before Congress aims to eliminate the clock-changing custom. Introduced by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the Sunshine Protection Act would make daylight saving time “the new, permanent standard time,” and if passed would mean more sunlight in the evenings and no more “falling back” every November. In 2022 the bill received unanimous approval in the Senate but failed to pass in the House of Representatives; a 2023 version has seen little movement.
Proponents of the bill tout the supposed economic advantages of one more hour of daylight at the end of the day. Often-cited research by the JPMorgan Chase Institute in 2016 found that consumer spending dropped 3.5% after the end of daylight saving time in November — though that study was relatively limited, in that it focused solely on spending in Los Angeles. The retail, hospitality and service industries also assert that they benefit big time when consumers have one more hour of daylight at the end of the workday to be out and about spending money; in the 1980s, officials representing the golf industry claimed that one month of extra sunlight would increase their sales revenue by $200 million.
What does it mean for your health?
Psychologist Shelby Harris, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, tells Yahoo Life that both time changes, in the fall and the spring, can significantly affect the quality and quantity of sleep.
“When we lose an hour of sleep in the spring, it can lead to a reduction in sleep quality and take our bodies longer to adjust to an earlier bedtime,” she says.
Business Insider reports that on the Monday after daylight saving time begins in March, hospitals report a 24% spike in heart attack visits as Americans lose an hour of sleep.
Hospitals see the opposite trend in November, with heart attack visits dropping 21% the day after we turn back the clocks and gain an hour of sleep. But even that extra hour can have adverse effects.
“When we gain an hour of sleep in the fall, it can cause early morning awakenings and difficulties falling asleep at night,” Harris says. However, she notes that this shift back to standard time is typically an easier adjustment for our bodies.
Jamie Zeitzer, a Stanford University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, tells Yahoo Life that while the individual health effects can be minimal, there are increased risks when an entire society is a little groggier.
“When you have that shift, you’re either going to gain or lose an hour of sleep opportunity,” Zeitzer says. “For any individual, that’s neither here nor there; lots of people gain or lose an hour of sleep on any given night compared to what they usually get, and the risk to any individual is not that large. But when you have an entire society doing it at once, while you might have very small risks to everyone, at a group level it contributes.”
Standard time vs. daylight saving time
Health experts agree that we should ditch biannual clock changes, but they say having permanent standard time — not permanent daylight saving time, as the Sunshine Protection Act proposes — is the way to go.
“If the Sunshine Protection Act becomes law, people may experience more sleep difficulties with waking up in the morning and falling asleep at night,” Harris says. “Making daylight saving time permanent would mean we have less light in the morning to help wake us up and more light in the evening, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Teenagers, who already find it challenging to be alert in the morning, especially due to early school start times, would have the hardest time adapting to permanent daylight saving time with reduced morning light.”
Rather than constantly switching between the two every year, Harris says we should “stick with standard time, [which] is more aligned with our body’s natural sleep schedule.”
An AASM position statement published in 2020 supports eliminating seasonal time changes and says standard time’s extra hour of daylight in the morning is preferable. Standard time, the organization argues, is more in line with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, while daylight saving time’s darker mornings can cause a disruption in that rhythm, leading to increased risk of adverse health effects like obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and depression. A number of other organizations have since endorsed the statement, including the National Safety Council and the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine.
Tips for dealing with time change
For now, at least, seasonal time change is here to stay. So Harris and Zeitzer shared some tips to make the transition as easy as possible.
Before the time change: “Start adjusting your sleep schedule a few days in advance,” Harris suggests. “Get exposure to bright light in the morning, and avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.”
On the day of the time change: Set your alarm to the new time and stick to it, and try to avoid napping during the day. You should also get outside and expose yourself to bright light as soon as possible. “Going out early in the morning, getting that good dose of light — that’ll help you shift faster into the new time,” Zeitzer says. “Same thing with adjusting your meal patterns too. You want to adjust your meal patterns to that new time zone as rapidly as possible.”
After the time change: In the days after the time change, continue to stick to your new sleep schedule as much as possible. “Get regular exercise but avoid any hard exercise too close to bedtime, and eat a healthy diet and avoid eating heavy meals before bed,” Harris says.