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In daylight saving time, there are more options than you think

The United States could soon live with DST year-round if the Senate gets its way.

Are there any downsides to this plan? Yes, say sleep experts. But there are also downsides to the alternatives.

Here’s a breakdown of the options and what they could do to upend your daily life:

First, a word on nomenclature: Standard time is observed by most of the United States during the winter months. Daylight saving time is the time we find ourselves in after advancing the clocks each spring.

The Senate recently voted to make daylight saving time permanent, meaning there would be more afternoon sun. But without the transition to standard time in the winter, people in many northern parts of the country would wake up in the dark at 8 a.m. or later.

“A lot of people prefer to have that daylight at the end of the day,” said Philip Gehrman, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “But these mornings are going to get dark.”

A similar debate is playing out in Europe. In 2019, European Union lawmakers voted to scrap seasonal daylight saving time and allow each country in the bloc to choose whether to follow daylight saving time throughout the year or maintain daylight saving time. standard time. But countries disagree on when to adopt, and the pandemic has stalled those debates.

DST supporters, including retailers and many outdoor industries, say the extra afternoon daylight would boost sales as consumers would have more time to spend their money. after work or school.

Critics, however, say it disrupts people’s circadian rhythm, which is closely linked to sunlight, leading to feelings of increased fatigue and more dangerous journeys on darker mornings.

That’s what the American Academy of Sleep Medicine wants: a standard time all year round, which would mean brighter mornings and darker evenings.

“A permanent standard time change is better aligned with human circadian biology and has the potential to produce beneficial effects for public health and safety,” they said in 2020.

Arizona and Hawaii already do. When the rest of the country switches to daylight saving time each spring, residents of these two states are essentially out of step with the rest of the country.

“It’s a relief not to have to think about losing or gaining this hour,” said Denise Rodriguez Esquivel, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona who specializes in the treatment of insomnia and depression. circadian rhythm disorders. She said Arizonans weren’t too keen on extending the scorching heat into the evening.

Sometimes she has to calculate what time it is for her friends or family in other states. “It takes some getting used to,” she said. “But other than that, it’s just great.”

Sleep experts who advocate permanent standard time argue that it would improve daytime sleep and alertness. Circadian misalignment, they say, can lead to higher risks of some serious health problems, including obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular problems, depression, and even cancer.

In 1974, the United States experimented with maintaining daylight saving time year-round in an effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption.

David Prerau, the author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time,” said many people quickly realized they didn’t like getting up, walking and driving in the cold and wet. morning darkness. The New York Times declared the winter of 1974 to be “the second dark age”.

“People absolutely hated it,” Mr. Prerau said. “He became very unpopular very quickly.”

The law, which was signed by former President Richard Nixon, allowed the experiment to last two years. But due to public backlash, the Senate and House voted to end it a year early.

The American experiment followed a similar experiment in Britain, which put its clocks forward permanently in 1968. Many people, especially farmers who woke up in the dark, hated it. In 1970, during a heated parliamentary debate, lawmakers expressed their constituents’ exasperation with the darker mornings. “Let’s get rid of it,” said Michael Jopling, a Conservative member of the House of Lords. “Cows – and other animals – hate change,” said John Mackie, a lawmaker sympathetic to farmers concerned about declining milk production.

A year later, the clocks were reversed and the semester cycle resumed.

Perhaps the debate, obsession, and even pain over the nation’s timing is best captured in this scene from the HBO comedy series “Veep.”

Some expect history to repeat itself if DST becomes permanent again. But Steve P. Calandrillo, professor of law and public policy topics at the University of Washington, including daylight saving time, said it’s always worth trying again.

If the effects were a decrease in road deaths and crime and an increase in consumer spending, “then hopefully that would have a chance,” he added.

The current system is essentially a compromise. And there are alternatives that slice time changes into increments other than an hour, though none of them are particularly interesting.

“Personally, I think eight months of summer time and four months of winter time is a great compromise between the two alternatives and kind of gives us the best of both,” Prerau said.

Meeting in the middle and moving the clock back or forward 30 minutes doesn’t solve anything either, Gehrman said.

“The 30 minutes would minimize the effects,” he said. “But then do you make any real difference or does it become meaningless at this point?”

Two professors at Johns Hopkins University, Steve H. Hanke, professor of applied economics, and Richard Conn Henry, professor of physics and astronomy, have put their name to an alternative that eliminates time zones altogether. Under the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar System, time around the world would be followed by a universal standard, just as pilots currently use Coordinated Universal Time to avoid time-shifting accidents in the air.

In 2013, writer Allison Schrager suggested in an article for The Atlantic that the continental United States should only have two time zones, separating the east and west coasts by one hour.

“Anyone who lives on one coast and does business with the other can imagine the countless benefits of living in a nation with two time zones (excluding Alaska and Hawaii),” she wrote. .

In China, the whole nation uses Beijing Time. What if the United States, where the eastern and western borders are about 400 miles closer than China’s, did the same?

“It’s a very bad idea,” Mr. Gehrman said. “People I know in China who live further west, they hate it.”

People in western China are basically four to five hours out of step with the rest of the country, resulting in unpleasant waking hours, he said.

“The main point,” he said, “is that we have to choose one and stick to it.”


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