Permanent Daylight Saving Time isn’t all sunshine

If the legislation can pass the House (where support seems less enthusiastic) and get President Joe Biden’s signature, there will be no more pushback every year in the fall. More daylight and no more clock changes.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast.

The Senate’s enthusiasm for permanent daylight saving time belies a very real debate at the intersection of human psychology, economics, and our collective sleep cycle.

First, some background. There is an old myth that daylight saving time was a practice adopted to give farmers more time in the sun to exercise in the fields. But that’s not really why dozens of countries follow it.

Daylight saving time is a system to reduce electricity use by extending daylight hours. For eight months of the year, the US and dozens of other countries follow daylight saving time, and for the remaining four months, they revert to standard time to make the most of sunlight.

While the practice may help reduce some energy consumption, critics have raised concerns about whether the amount of energy saved is worth the trouble of deploying the system worldwide.

In 2008, the US Department of Energy found that a four-week extension of daylight saving time from April-October to March-November saved about 0.5% in total electricity every day. While that seems like next to nothing, it totals 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours, which according to the DOE adds up to “the amount of electricity used by more than 100,000 homes for an entire year.”
But a study that same year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that daylight saving time slightly increases residential electricity demand: Although lighting use was reduced, heating and cooling demand increased, so the electricity consumption was about the same.

Dissent from a sleep expert

While there could be a debate in the House, there isn’t within the sleep expert community, which argues that permanent daylight saving time is a bad idea.

The Sun Protection Law? “You could also call it the Darkness Protection Act,” Dr. David Neubauer, a sleep medicine expert at Johns Hopkins University, told What Matters.

“Nobody is creating more sunlight in this Act. They’re just stealing light from the morning, when we need it to boost our circadian clock, and adding it at night, when we really don’t need it,” he said.

Neubauer is not alone in this sentiment. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a statement following the Senate’s passage of the Sunlight Protection Act, warning that “making daylight saving time permanent overlooks the potential health risks that can avoided by establishing a permanent standard time”.

The argument is as follows: During daylight saving time, the clock advances one hour, so sunrise and sunset occur one hour later than before. This also advances the biological clock by one hour. Therefore, one might tend to go to bed later and have a harder time getting up in the morning.

And skimping on sleep goes way beyond dark circles. Lack of sleep is linked to type II diabetes, heart attacks, and depression. Lack of sleep can even shrink your brain.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the sleep problem a public health epidemic.

“It’s really quite ridiculous how the promotion of the Sun Protection Act suggested there would be metabolic benefits,” Neubauer said.

It’s the economy, asleep

Another argument in favor of permanent daylight saving time postulates that more daylight will equal more economic activity.

In an article for CNN Opinion last month, Rubio and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey wrote that “more sun at night can boost our economy,” citing an increase in consumer spending in Denmark with increased daylight. in the nights.

But this too is far from resolved. PNC economist Kurt Rankin told What Matters: “If there is any economic impact, it’s short-lived. People adapt.”

“If we know anything, the US economy is powered by workers who bring home a paycheck and spend that paycheck. And they’re going to find a way and a reason to spend their paycheck,” regardless of the summer schedule. Time, she said.

Advocates of the Sunlight Protection Act have specifically targeted the hospitality sector, noting that more daylight could help boost recreational businesses and outdoor entertainment venues.

It’s a tantalizing premise, especially as consumer confidence fell to its lowest level since August 2011 in March, as American families worry about what their finances will look like in the year ahead.

Rankin, however, argues that the effects would be minimal if you look at the scale of the US economy.

“Anyway, it’s too cold in most parts of the country to enjoy those outdoor activities during the winter months. So maybe places in the south would benefit from that, but it would be a one-time benefit and people would adjust their schedules”. he said.

“And next year, I would say people have gotten used to it. There would be no break in the schedule, but it would not provide a benefit that has not been realized.”

The psychology of the sun

Finally, a considerable part of the appeal of the Sunlight Protection Act rests on the idea that people enjoy sunlight more than darkness.

Here, the supporters of the bill are right. “You don’t need an advanced degree in clinical psychology to know that exercising and being outside is probably a good thing,” Kevin Bennett, a professor of social personality psychology at Pennsylvania State University, told What Matters.

Time spent outdoors, Bennett said, “is wonderful for the body and mind and general well-being. I think the real reason is that it’s connected to our ancient past. If you look at the environment in which humans evolved over thousands of generations, it was mostly outdoors and mostly natural settings.”

And with an extra hour of sunlight comes more opportunities for outdoor activity, the argument goes.

A 2015 study showed that people who walk in nature report fewer repetitive negative thoughts. And the Scottish Government’s health service is so convinced of the benefits of nature for mental and physical health that it has encouraged doctors to give “nature prescriptions” to help treat high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

Bennett acknowledged the concerns of sleep experts, but called the potential switch to permanent daylight saving time “a worthy experiment, something we should try.”

“And if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be back in two years.”

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