Daylight saving time starts soon: What if we stopped changing the clocks?

(NEXSTAR) — In just a few weeks, most of the U.S. will lose an hour of sleep when the clocks jump ahead an hour (or you reset them manually) to mark the start of daylight saving time.

The sun will rise later, but we’ll also see later sunsets — a pleasant change if you’ve been driving home from work in the dark for the last few months.

If some lawmakers have their way, it could be the last time we have to adjust our clocks by an hour. So what would happen if we stopped changing the clocks twice a year?

Daylight hours

One of the most obvious changes we’d see if we “locked the clocks” would, of course, be the amount of daylight we experience. 

Let’s use Chicago as an example. When daylight saving time begins in March, sunrise will shift from 6:12 a.m. to 7:10 a.m., and the sun will set at 6:52 p.m. instead of 5:51 p.m. Through the spring and summer months, the city will see sunrises as early as 5:15 a.m. and sunsets as late as 8:30 p.m.

If we elected to stay on permanent standard time (the time we observe during the winter months), Chicagoans would have an early wake-up come summertime, with the sun rising as early as 4:15 a.m. They’d also find relatively early sunsets, with the latest happening around 7:30 p.m.

If March is the last time we change the clocks (meaning we stay on daylight saving time permanently), come winter, the sun would rise well after 8 a.m. in Chicago. But, the sun would never set before 5 p.m., a potentially more favorable option compared to sun setting close to 4 p.m. at times during winter.

What happened last time

As nice as it may sound, permanent daylight saving time hasn’t always gone well in the U.S. When we tried the practice in the 1970s, it was initially well-received. But, when winter came, parents grew concerned as their children went off to school in the dark. (Remember, sunrises in Chicago wouldn’t happen until 8 a.m. or later under year-round daylight saving time.) After scrutiny, we went back to observing standard time for four months per year, as we do now. 

The biannual practice of changing the clocks hasn’t always been well-received either. In the 1910s, when the U.S. first observed it as a wartime measure, farmers were quick to point out the negatives. Since they largely operated based on the sun, not the clock, they found themselves waiting longer into the day for dew to evaporate off crops, or for the cows to be ready for milking after daylight saving time began. Farmers are credited with fighting back against the practice, which was later overhauled by Congress.

While we’re decades out from both experiences, the arguments still hold true. Winters would be darker if we stick on daylight saving time year-round, and those who rely on the sun for certain aspects of their jobs could be impacted by ending (or not ending) the practice.

Health consequences

If we stopped changing the clocks twice a year, regardless of if we do it in March or November, there could be some health benefits. 

Dr. Seema Khosla, medical director for the North Dakota Center for Sleep, previously explained to Nexstar that changing the clock “puts us out of alignment with our natural circadian rhythm.” 

“You know, all of a sudden, we’re changing our time by an hour right?” she explains. “It’s darker more in the morning and it’s later in the evening and that kind of disrupts our … body’s natural circadian cycle.”

Research has found that there are more reported car crashes on the Monday after daylight saving time, when we lose an hour of sleep. Specifically, a 2020 study found the risk of a fatal traffic accident rose by 6% in the U.S. after the clocks spring forward. Studies have also shown a small increase in heart attacks after the start of daylight saving time in March, followed by a small decrease in November when the clocks change again.

It isn’t all negative, though. The extra hour of daylight we experience in the evenings during winter can be beneficial, especially for those dealing with seasonal affective disorder, according to Dr. Beth Verdone of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in New York.  

Which is better? Permanent standard time or permanent daylight saving time?

It depends on who you ask. 

Multiple lawmakers, both on the state and federal level, argue that permanent daylight saving time would increase time in the sun, cut crime, improve the economy, and benefit our mental health. 

Health experts say permanent standard time is the better option, citing the health consequences mentioned above.

So will it happen?

Regardless of which side of the clock you stand on, we likely won’t be ditching the practice anytime soon. 

Many states have introduced or passed legislation to observe daylight saving time permanently. However, under current federal law, states can only independently decide to observe standard time year-round, as Hawaii and most of Arizona have

In order for any of those states to observe daylight saving time all year, Congress needs to take action. There were multiple bills introduced last year to do just that, but all three have stalled in committees despite bipartisan support.

So for now, be prepared to set your clock ahead an hour when daylight saving time begins on March 10 and set it back on November 3.

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