Children might start going to school in darkness next year in exchange for more sun later in the day, while their parents commute home from work with the benefit of light. Those would be among the impacts of ditching standard time and adopting year-round daylight saving time, a change in legislation the Senate recently passed with virtually no opposition. If the Sunshine Protection Act, as written, were to gain House approval and President Joe Biden’s signature, Americans would fall back this November, spring forward in March 2023, and then never change their clocks again.
Keeping daylight saving time through those fall and winter months would push sunrise an hour later, meaning early risers and children who head to school around 7 a.m. would do so as the sun still slumbers. But eight-plus hours after that, much of the evening rush would unfold with the sun in the sky until closer to 6 or 7 p.m.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the bipartisan bill’s main backers, said he would expect year-round daylight saving time to reduce crime with later hours of sunshine, decrease child obesity by encouraging kids to play later into the day and put a dent in seasonal depression rates.
“I know this is not the most important issue confronting America, but it’s one of those issues where there’s a lot of agreement,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And I think a lot of people wonder why it took so long to get here.” The potential change could have far-reaching implications in many facets of American life, affecting education, transportation, health and even weather reports on the evening news.
Among the most ardent opponents of year-round daylight saving time are doctors and researchers with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sunlight activates key hormones that fuel a person’s activities for the day, and the earlier that process starts the better, according to advocates for standard time. And melatonin, which is key to falling asleep, is triggered after the sun sets, so the earlier that happens, the longer the runway toward a good night of shuteye. Still, the act of shifting between standard and daylight saving times is linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, according to a 2020 study, including higher rates of heart disease and more traffic accidents. So eliminating the practice of changing clocks might at least alleviate those risks.
What about how daylight saving time affects our kids? With busy schedules of sports, clubs, and lessons, most kids don’t get enough sleep. Between school and their various activities, children are often more over-scheduled than their parents. When we add in the adjustment that is necessary to deal with changing our clocks, it can be a recipe for disaster for young minds that need sleep.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine set out to investigate the impact of Daylight Saving Time on high school students. What they found was that in the days following the change in time, students lost an average of 32 minutes of sleep per night. This might not sound significant, but a cumulative sleep loss of 2 hours and 42 minutes over just a single week tells a different story. This loss led to a reduction in focus and learning.
Many kids also struggle with focus, and one of the scientifically proven culprits is lack of sleep. Studies have shown that in the wake of daylight saving time, the average person loses close to 3 hours of sleep in the week following. For kids especially, this can be detrimental to their focus and ability to learn. Considering the average school year is only about 36 complete weeks, losing one week due to time change adjustment can be a difficult obstacle for teachers to overcome. It is possible that permanently switching to daylight saving time could eliminate some of these negative effects children experience at school when their sleep is affected.
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