March 10, 2022 -- A congressional committee debated on Wednesday whether to end the twice-per-year shifting of the clock due to daylight saving time.
Lawmakers and experts talked about the health effects of “springing forward” and “falling back” each year, according to The Washington Post. The debate often comes up again as the clocks are slated to change, with Sunday marking the day when people in most parts of the U.S. will set their clocks ahead one hour.
During the hearing, convened by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, experts talked about the seasonal shift and how it affects sleep, heart problems, and other health and public safety concerns.
“There is clear evidence that going back and forth not only affects adults, with [more] heart attacks and strokes, but also affects our kids, particularly with teen sleep deprivation,” Beth Ann Malow, MD, a neurologist who is director of the Sleep Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said during the hearing.
Essential workers and students are the most vulnerable to health and sleep problems, she said, noting that the time shift means people often need to wake up to commute in the dark.
“There’s going to be more car accidents on the Monday following this Sunday switch, and it’s because we’re going to mess up people’s sleep cycles,” Steve Calandrillo, JD, a law professor at the University of Washington who testified at the hearing, told the newspaper.
More than 40 states are considering changes to the time shift, the newspaper reported, and federal lawmakers are weighing legislation that could make daylight saving time permanent. The seasonal shift was first adopted in the U.S. a century ago and has been revised since then, including a brief push to make it year-round in response to the 1970s energy crisis.
Although lawmakers and experts tend to agree that it’s time to stop the shift, they’re split on the right move, the newspaper reported. Calandrillo said the U.S. should adopt daylight saving time to embrace as much light as possible in the evenings, while Malow said the country should adopt standard time because moving the clocks earlier affects the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Daylight saving time “is like living in the wrong time zone for almost 8 months out of the year,” she said during the hearing, citing research about the body’s natural responses to light and the release of hormones such as cortisol.
The hearing was scheduled to gather information before possible legislation, the newspaper reported, with both Democrats and Republicans expressing interest in changing the policy. They cited public support for doing so -- about 63% of Americans want to stop the twice-a-year clock change, according to a November 2021 poll from Economist/YouGov. Another 21% said they weren’t sure, and 16% said they don’t want to change the current practice. About 48% said they want a permanent daylight saving time with a later sunset, and 29% said they want a permanent standard time with an earlier sunrise.
“We heard today … that changing our clocks twice a year severely impacts our health,” New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat who chairs the committee, said during the hearing.
“And over the years, the science continues to get clearer that sleep is vital for our health and well-being,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet if I want daylight or standard, but I don’t think we should go back and forth.”
After the hearing, Pallone sent a request to the Department of Transportation, which enforces the federal Uniform Time Act from 1966. The request asks for an analysis of the effects of shifting the time, including changes to productivity, traffic, energy consumption, and consumer activity. A similar analysis was promised in 2018 but was never delivered to Congress, Pallone wrote.
States can choose to adopt permanent standard time -- as Hawaii and most of Arizona have done -- but it takes an act of Congress to allow states to adopt an overall permanent time shift, the Post reported.