Neither President Donald J. Trump nor his Democratic rival Joe Biden have addressed one of the divisive questions of our time — be it standard or daylight saving: Should we stop messing with our clocks?
For the record, some prominent sleep-disorder specialists in the medical community have cast an emphatic “yes” vote, holding that the time-tinkering messes with our bodies.
The clocks will go back an hour at 2 a.m. Eastern daylight time Sunday, at which time it will magically become 1 a.m. Eastern standard time, making Sunday a 25-hour day, a post-Halloween treat even in the time of COVID-19.
So, one might ask, who would care about an hour here or there in a year with 8,784 of them? It is not a trivial matter, argues Dr. Beth Malow, sleep specialist with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center neurology department.
The switching is a hostile act against the body’s circadian rhythms that regulate the sleep-wake cycle, she says. It’s not as though the Earth’s rotation speeds up when the clocks move up and slows down when they go back.
“From a circadian standpoint, you are out of sync for eight months,” she said Friday, adding she strongly favors year-round standard time.
Her arguments have strong support from the likes of Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders in the Departments of Medicine and Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his colleague Dr. Anthony Komaroff; the three major sleep-disorder professional organizations; and millions in Europe, where a movement has been building for years to scrap daylight saving time.
That happens to be where this all started.
Why daylight saving time?
According to the Congressional Research Service, daylight saving time began in Germany on May 1, 1916, as a war-conservation measure, according to the Congressional Research Service. The concept grew in popularity across Europe and arrived in the United States in 1918.
The American debut on March 31 was a fiasco. That happened to be Easter Sunday, and a whole lot of clergy and their congregations weren’t happy. Congress scrapped the plan but brought it back permanently in 1966.
DST has the obvious advantage of pushing back the night, allowing those languid summer evenings to linger longer.
Over time, its share of the year has grown, and these days standard time is confined to just about four months.
Some New England states have considered going on permanent Atlantic standard time, Czeisler noted, in effect opting for year-round daylight saving time, and in his view that’s a terrible idea.
What’s wrong with that?
Czeisler and Malow contend that daylight saving time would be particularly bad for the health of those who live at the western edge of a time zone. If light is lingering until 9:30 p.m. on a June night on the eastern edge of a time zone, it’s going to stick around until close to 10:30 p.m. on the west side.
That, they say, ultimately is disruptive to sleep patterns, which could have a variety of health impacts.
» READ MORE: Sleep deprivation linked to weaker bones
Malow says that the body should be getting less light later at night so that it can transition to the sleep it so desperately needs. We should be getting more light in the morning, she adds.
When the clocks go back, “People get frustrated because the sunsets are earlier,” says Czeisler. But the negative effects attributed to moving the clocks forward — increases in the incidence of heart attacks and traffic accidents — trend in the other direction.
Where the clock doesn’t change
Neither Hawaii, which is about half way to tomorrow from here, nor most of Arizona participate in the great national clock change.
Arizona test-drove daylight saving time in 1967, noted Arizona State University history professor Calvin Schermerhorn, but decided not to buy the car.
Energy consumption went off the charts because air conditioners had to run longer.
The entire country tried year-round DST in 1974 in an effort during an energy crisis. It went into effect on Jan. 3, and by the end of the month, the National School Boards Association called for an immediate end because school buses were plowing the darkness. The clocks were turned back in a month.
A final vote
Beth Malow said that the timing of the clock change this year — and both she and Czeisler said this is their favorite weekend — is especially fortuitous since voters will be more alert on Election Day. Regardless of the eventual outcome, we’ll at least be more rested.