The time might be coming to change the practice of changing your clocks for daylight saving time. For now, practice good sleep habits to lessen the shock.
Every fall, we move our clocks forward one hour, after moving backwards in the spring. Daylight Saving Time in the United States begins in March and ends at 2:00 a.m. in the fall (this year, it's Nov. 3), a regime set up under legislation enacted in 1986, amending a 1966 law.
Ready for change
Some 50 years later, a movement is now building to skip the fall switch back. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, led the way for a nationwide change, arguing that the move would be a boon for agriculture, encourage people to exercise more, and cut traffic accidents. According to at least one study based on national data, permanent Daylight Saving Time could cut pedestrian deaths by 13 percent from 5 to 10 a.m. and again from 4 to 9 p.m. Deaths of people in cars would drop 3 percent during those hours, researchers estimate.
The Sunshine Protection Act of 2019, sponsored by Rubio and senators from Washington and Oregon, would make the change for all of the current time zones, but the bill hasn’t reached the Senate floor. Florida has already passed its version, asking Congress to exempt it from the current law. Another possibility would be a new regulation from the U.S. Department of Transportation, permitting the switch. Neither has happened, so Floridians will be turning their clocks back November 3, along with most of the nation. Hawaii and most of Arizona are currently exempt from the national law.
The west coast is also poised for change: In November 2018, nearly 60 percent of California voters agreed that they don’t want to keep changing their clocks twice a year. A state assemblyman there promises to decide whether to opt for Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time permanently and propose a bill in January. Washington state has approved a bill that allows the state to observe Daylight Saving Time year-round and Oregon agreed, but its bill stipulates that the change wouldn’t go into effect unless California does the same.
Even after California acts, the states would need federal approval. Alabama, Arkansas, Nevada, and Tennessee have all passed state bills that would keep Daylight Saving Time year-round.
The history of moving clocks
So why did we ever start moving the clock back and forth? Benjamin Franklin first proposed the idea as a way to save on candles. It won favor to save energy during wartime. Germany and Austria took the plunge in the spring of 1916, and many countries in Europe followed, as well as Great Britain, Australia and, in 1918, the United States.
The new regime was so unpopular among Americans it was repealed in 1919, when Congress overrode a veto by President Wilson. After that, Daylight Saving Time became a local option, and was continued in a few states and in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Prompted by World War II, the United States adopted the practice nationwide once again. Then, from 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law, and states did what they wanted, creating lots of confusion for railroads and broadcasters, until the 1966 move to standardize time zones.
In "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time," David Prerau explains some of the arguments in favor of moving clocks, essentially helping us get home at the end of the day before dark.
How to adjust
The fall adjustment is easiest because we gain an extra hour of sleep. It’s similar to flying west into a later time zone. People vary quite a bit in how the change affects them, with most people adjusting after a day. Early-risers face dark mornings, and we all see the sun set earlier. You might fall asleep earlier at night and wake up before you feel rested, or have a hard time getting up, notes Robert Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley and author of "Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day."
To ease the way, remember the basics of good sleep habits. Avoid blue light from computers, cell phones, and tablets at least 90 minutes before bedtime, and if you wake up during the night. Stay away from caffeine after noon and alcohol close to bedtime. Exercise several hours before bedtime. In bed, wear ear plugs and eye masks, if needed, to shield yourself from noise and lights.
October 16, 2019
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA