State legislatures, sleep scientists and the public all seem to agree that the annual rite of springing forward and falling back has got to go. But the nation has not found consensus on what should replace it.
Nineteen states have passed laws or resolutions in the past five years to make daylight saving time permanent if Congress — and, in some cases, other states — permits the change. Two states, Arizona and Hawaii, have long followed permanent standard time, which the law already allows.
In standard time, noon arrives when the sun hangs highest in the sky. Daylight saving time shifts the clock forward, moving sunset one hour later. Currently, most of the United States operates on daylight saving time between March and November and on standard time for the rest of the year. The nation will bid goodbye to daylight saving time on Sunday, at least for now.
Scientists view standard time as the natural setting for the planet and the human body. Most sleep experts prefer it to daylight saving time for reasons of health.
“What standard time does is, it optimizes our light in the morning,” said Beth Malow, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University. “And we really need light in the morning to wake us up, to get us going, to reset our whole internal clock with what goes on in the world around us.”
Public opinion on the competing schedules has waffled over the decades. In recent years, however, two trends have emerged: People are tired of changing their clocks, and most Americans prefer daylight saving time.
A Monmouth University poll in March found that 61 percent of respondents favored abandoning the time change. A YouGov poll that month found 64 percent of those surveyed favoring a year-round setting. A 2021 poll by YouGov and The Economist found 63 percent support for a single setting.
All three polls show the public favoring daylight saving time over standard time.
“We can go out after work and exercise. We can go shopping or dining at night when it’s not dark,” said Cathy Kipp, a Democratic state representative in Colorado, where the legislature approved a switch to permanent daylight saving time this year, contingent on federal approval. “People want light after they get off of work. They don’t want dark on both ends of their day.”
The public associates daylight saving time with daylight — and summer vacation, backyard barbecues, sunshine and warmth.
“I think the reason a lot of people like daylight saving time is that they like summer,” said Jennifer Martin, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Responding to the trend in state legislation, the Senate passed a bill in the spring that would ensconce daylight saving time as the new permanent setting. The Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 would effectively set clocks an hour forward for good in every state but two. Arizona and Hawaii would be allowed to continue following year-round standard time.
The bill prevailed in a process called unanimous consent, which bypassed the normal routine of testimony and debate. Some senators later quipped that its swift passage caught them off guard.
After the Senate vote, the daylight saving movement hit a wall in the House. With the stakes rising, constituents and lobbyists flooded lawmakers with messages on both sides of the great time debate. Malow, the Vanderbilt sleep scientist, testified against it. Lawmakers balked. Clouds of indecision descended over the Sunshine Protection Act. After months of delay, observers expect no decisive vote anytime soon.
For now, it seems, the great resetting will continue.
“We know that the majority of Americans do not want to keep switching the clocks back and forth,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the House subcommittee where the bill has stalled, in a statement.
“I have received calls from constituents who prefer permanent standard time because they have safety concerns for children who have to wait too long in the dark during winter for the school bus, and I have heard from constituents and businesses who prefer permanent daylight saving time because they prefer longer daylight hours. While there does not seem to be a consensus yet, I am continuing to listen to my constituents and work with my colleagues to determine the best path forward.”
One congressional aide put it more bluntly. “We know 7 in 10 Americans want it to happen,” he said. “We just don’t know which one to do. This is an issue where half the country’s gonna be upset no matter what.”
The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he is working on the bill and lacks permission to discuss it.
Local legislatures and poll respondents seem to favor daylight saving time across much of the nation. States that have adopted daylight saving time for good — if Congress permits — include the northern border states of Maine, Minnesota, Montana and Washington, where daylight runs short in winter.
The stakes in any clock change are higher up north, where even a one-hour shift can mean starting school or commuting to work in a “Blade Runner” pall of darkness.
The sun will rise at 8:26 a.m. on Christmas morning in Bismarck, N.D., one of the nation’s northerly cities. If daylight saving time ran year-round, Christmas would dawn at 9:26.
“We’re not made to start the day in the dark,” Martin said.
Winter daylight runs short in Minnesota, as well. Yet, the state legislature enacted permanent daylight saving time in 2021, subject to federal approval.
“My sense is, there might be more people who prefer the extra hour of sunlight in the evening that daylight saving affords,” said Mike Freiberg, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in the state House.
But Freiberg is no daylight-saving zealot. He previously pushed for year-round standard time in Minnesota.
“Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another,” he said. “I just want to get rid of the clock changes.”
He is not alone. Jeff Bridges, a Democratic state senator in Colorado, sponsored bills to put his state on permanent standard time and daylight saving time. The daylight saving time bill survived.
“Personally, I just want the madness to end,” Bridges said.
Year-round daylight saving time might work better in some places than others. Under the current setting, sunrise never comes much after 7 a.m. in midwinter in Schakowsky’s Chicago-area district, near the eastern edge of the central time zone.
Benton Harbor lies just 100 miles away, across the Michigan border. Yet, by the crude calculus of regional time, sunrise arrives there roughly an hour later, in the eastern time zone. Year-round daylight saving time would push sunrise as late as 9:14 a.m. in January.
“We cannot stretch the day. That is the problem,” said Ali Güler, associate professor of biology at the University of Virginia.
Some sleep experts, Güler included, would rather see the nation united on either year-round setting than enduring disruptive seasonal shifts.
“Switching is horrible,” he said. “You can actually measure the devastation that it incurs every year,” a toll of heart attacks and traffic accidents in the blurry days after the brutal spring back.
But Güler would strongly prefer permanent standard time. Other experts, including Martin, favor “as much standard time as possible,” even if that means carrying on with the semiannual changing of the clocks.
“I read a great quote somewhere,” Martin said: “‘Light in the morning is for our health. Light in the evening is for our enjoyment.’”