Many Washingtonians might not like changing our clocks back and forth twice a year — as we’re set to do this Sunday when we spring forward one hour — but we sure do love our late summer sunsets.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli of Spokane never saw such an enthusiastic response from constituents across the state as the year he and other lawmakers proposed ditching the switch and staying on permanent daylight saving time year-round.
The proposal won overwhelming bipartisan support, was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in May 2019, and seemed headed for Congress.
While states can move to permanent standard time without federal approval, congressional action is required to stay on daylight saving time. The Sunshine Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, would have amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and allow states to adopt permanent daylight saving time.
Although year-round daylight saving time is popular with outdoor enthusiasts, people who like to party and those who like to sell things to them, standard time is significantly better for most people, said Horacio de la Iglesia, a professor of biology at the University of Washington. His work on sleep cycles contributed to Seattle Public Schools decision to start school later for middle and high school students.
That’s because our bodies want to sync with natural daylight hours.
Daylight saving time is what we observe from March through November each year. For many people, it’s a turning point from the short dark days of winter to the longer evenings and later sunsets of summer.
In Seattle, it doesn’t have a hugely detrimental effect on our moods and sleep cycles in spring and summer because there’s still plenty of morning light, he said, but winter is a different story.
On Seattle’s shortest day, the sun rises at around 8 a.m. and sets just after 4 p.m. If Washington switched to year-round DST, the sun would rise at 9 a.m. and set at 5 p.m. that day in Seattle.
“You may think that the extra hour of evening light we gain with DST is good for you,” he explained. “But research shows that the hour of morning light we miss out on under DST is unhealthy for your body and mind.”
Human sleep patterns prefer to be in sync with “solar time,” he said, and standard time is closer to true solar time.
De la Iglesia said that under DST — when the clock is artificially shifted an hour ahead — we are asking our brains and bodies to wake up an hour earlier than they are biologically prepared to do. Sleep and mood disorders would follow, he said.
Being on daylight saving time in the middle of the winter “would be like Monday morning every day for the rest of your life.”
The U.S. experimented with year-round DST after the 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries. In an effort to conserve fuel and reduce dependence on foreign sources, Congress enacted a trial period of permanent DST that was supposed to begin on Jan. 6, 1974, and end April 27, 1975.
By fall, the dark mornings proved too much, according to David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.
Ten months in, the act was amended, and on Oct. 27, 1974, clocks were set back an hour and the country returned to observing standard time during the four darkest months and DST the other eight.
De la Iglesia, who began studying human sleep about 10 years ago, said the negative impacts of year-round DST would be even greater in today’s world because of the prevalence of screens and artificial light that stimulate the circadian system.
Rates of depression can increase when you “ask people to wake up and perform in the middle of the night,” he said.
And even though the momentum behind the push for change appears to have waned since 2019, when more than two dozen states were considering measures to avoid the twice-yearly clock change, de la Iglesia said there’s still concern.
“There are still a lot of people trying to push for permanent daylight saving time, not just here but on the federal level,” he said.
On Wednesday, a congressional panel debated whether to end the nation’s daylight saving policy with its biannual shifting the clock. Most agreed it was time.
But let’s leave the worrying to others just for a bit. We made it through another Seattle winter.
Let’s set our clocks forward on Sunday and enjoy the light while we can.