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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”