When the clock strikes 2 a.m. Sunday, we’ll fall back one hour, as if the 2019 signing of a Washington state law to stop switching our clocks never even happened.
This week, The Seattle Times asked readers what questions they had about the perennial #DitchtheSwitch debate. We wanted to know what you thought about adopting daylight saving time versus standard time, your curiosities about the effects of sunlight on our health and what you wanted to hear from the experts themselves.
We gathered the most commonly asked questions and answered them below, and also compiled some of your thoughts and tips to prepare us all for Sunday.
If we could have ditched the switch three years ago, why are we still observing daylight saving time?
The answer to this question is not all that simple.
In 2019, state lawmakers voted to do away with the twice-yearly pendulum of the clocks. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the legislation, and then Washington’s own Sen. Patty Murray sponsored the Sunshine Protection Act in Washington, D.C., which would make daylight saving time permanent across the country.
Even though Inslee signed the measure, Washington still needs Congress to pass legislation allowing states to adopt permanent daylight saving time. Federal law allows states to opt into standard time permanently, but adopting year-round daylight saving time requires congressional action.
Last spring, Inslee’s signature and the ink of at least 450 bills and resolutions in almost every state in support of yearlong daylight time were met with unanimous backing through the Sunshine Protection Act in the U.S. Senate. Passing the act would allow states that have chosen to “ditch the switch” to make that change. States would have to choose to operate either on standard or daylight year-round. States that already use standard time year-round (Hawaii and most of Arizona) would be allowed to continue.
Despite its success in the Senate and the wave of support particularly on the West Coast, the Sunshine Protection Act still sits in the House, as disagreements over its language and higher-priority issues take precedence, according to The Hill.
What time should I set my clock for Saturday night?
One reader asked for the specifics on setting the clock: “If you go to bed at 10 p.m., what time should you set your clock for? Is it 9 p.m., or is it 11 p.m.?”
Since we’re “falling back” at 2 a.m. Sunday, our clocks will need to move one hour backward. Most smartphones will automatically adjust the time. If you have a manual clock you’d like to set before bed, move it back one hour (our reader would move their clock to 9 p.m.).
What are the economic effects of setting our clocks forward and backward?
The financial cost for the twice-yearly seesaw of the clocks is hard to pin down. A study by Chmura Economics & Analytics estimated daylight saving time costs the U.S. more than $430 million a year.
If the United States stuck to daylight saving time year-round, drivers would hit and kill 37,000 fewer deer each year and save about $1.2 billion in collision costs, according to the predictions of a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.
The study also predicts that keeping year-round daylight saving time — and reducing the amount of time that rush hour traffic takes place during darkness — would prevent 33 deaths and around 2,000 injuries.
Steve Calandrillo, a UW law professor, supports permanent daylight time for this very reason, writing in UW Magazine that “the evening rush hour is twice as fatal as the morning’s,” with more people on the road, more alcohol in drivers’ bloodstreams, people hurrying to get home and even more children engaging in outdoor, unsupervised play.
On the other hand, the study predicts permanent standard time would result in $2.39 billion in costs by causing nearly 74,000 more crashes, 66 deaths and more than 4,100 injuries.
Is it possible to switch to permanent standard time?
A few readers asked about the likelihood of Washington staying on standard time permanently, like Hawaii, most of Arizona and some American territories.
When we polled readers last spring, we found that out of 1,000 responses, 72.4% of readers favored permanent standard time. Standard time is what we’re switching to on Sunday and will observe through March.
The support for permanent standard time is a major shift from 2019, when the momentum of public approval and bipartisan support in both the state House and the Senate resulted in Inslee’s permanent daylight time state law.
Both California and Oregon adopted similar measures in 2019 to embrace year-round daylight saving time, and since Washington lawmakers say the West Coast should remain unified in its timekeeping, it is unlikely that Washington will adopt permanent standard time.
Kim Sundberg and Debby Clausen of San Juan Island responded when we asked this week for thoughts on ditching the switch to say they’d prefer permanent standard time. They’re both retired biologists, and they try to structure their lives “by respecting natural seasons and cycles,” they said.
“As morning people, we particularly resent dark mornings in fall and look forward to returning to standard time on Sunday,” they said.
Sabrina Martin told the Times “more children want to play outside at 4 p.m. than at 5 a.m. The same goes for many adults wanting to go for a walk after work.”
In a perfect world, shorter work days or more flexible school and work schedules would help us still enjoy some sunlight during our darkest winter days, but “since that’s not likely soon, I vote permanent daylight saving time,” Martin said.
Some readers wondered if ditching the switch is a debate that even concerns the West Coast as a whole, saying “It’s latitude, not longitude, that matters.”
Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center and a professor of neurology at UW, said adopting yearlong DST would negatively impact population health across the board due to circadian misalignment, or the misalignment between the body clock and sun clock (we’ll get to that next).
What are the long-term consequences of yearlong daylight saving time versus yearlong standard time?
Some have celebrated the push for permanent daylight saving time, while others, like Watson, who is also the director of the Harborview Medical Center Sleep Clinic, say “doing this would be akin to dosing the entire population with a permanent hour of jet lag.”
“If you think it is hard to wake up for work in the winter now, it will be much more difficult if we go to permanent DST,” Watson said, adding that the sun in winter would not rise until around 9 a.m. on Dec. 21, the day with the least daylight.
Daylight time is also associated with “a 10% increase in heart attacks, an 8% increase in stroke risk, increases in depression and suicidality,” Watson wrote for Sleep Score, “and increases in the number and severity of workplace injuries and motor vehicle accidents immediately following the time change.”
Stuart Weiss of Seattle responded to our call for questions and said that at 93, it takes him several weeks to recover from switching the clocks. Once a fan of daylight saving time, he now agrees with the health experts that it’s best to stay on standard time.
“It will certainly make my old age more comfortable,” he said.
According to Watson, the connection between our health and sunlight can be explained by recognizing three clocks — the sun clock, the body clock and the social clock.
Each of us has an internal body clock that regulates functions like hormone fluctuations and sleep. Our internal clock evolved to align with the sunrise and sunset in a 24-hour day, or the sun clock.
Our internal clock runs a little bit longer than 24 hours in most of us, but the sun steps in each morning help us out. Sunlight gently pulls us back into the 24-hour cycle of the sun clock by sending signals to specialized receptors in our eyes.
When the sun sets, the decrease in light signals to our body clock that it’s time to produce hormones such as melatonin, which promotes sleep.
Sunlight shapes our behavior, Watson said, and causes our body clock to function optimally in regards to our health and well-being.
When our daily schedules shift by an hour each March, the sun stays put — the natural relationship between our internal clock and the sun clock is disrupted, and the results are the negative effects on our health due to circadian misalignment.
Although we’ll fall back into sync with the sun on Sunday, it’s been eight long months for our internal clocks. Here are some tips from the Farmers’ Almanac to help keep your sleep schedule, and your health, on track:
- In the days following the time change, stop drinking caffeinated beverages 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol in the evening. Also, if you exercise, avoid workouts within 4 hours of bedtime. Working out raises your body temperature temporarily, which can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep on the days before and after the time change. If you have trouble with the time change, help your body slowly adjust by shifting bedtime 15 to 20 minutes each night.
- On the days around the time change, eat at the same time or even a little early. Try to shift your mealtime forward 15 minutes for a few days in a row to help ease the transition. If you’re craving a snack, choosing foods high in protein, not carbs, can help.
- If you’re tired, take a cat nap (no longer than 20 minutes) during the day instead of continuing without any sleep.
- If it’s not raining (which it probably will be), go outside and soak in some morning sunlight on Sunday to help regulate your internal clock.