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Is permanent daylight saving time a good idea? Sleep medicine doctor weighs in

Posted on Apr. 24, 2019 ( comments)

Not surprisingly, no one seems to enjoy losing an hour with the switch to daylight saving time (DST) each spring.

Most of us enjoy the result — a seemingly longer day as sunset gets pushed back. But do we really have to put ourselves through it? Can’t we just stick with DST year-round?

Some state legislators think so. But what does a sleep expert think?

In the past, state lawmakers have proposed sticking to standard time, eliminating forever the “spring forward” and “fall back” that so many of us dread, but making our spring and summer afternoons seem a little shorter. This year, however, the proposal is to stay in DST.

Proponents of the change say it might cut crime by pushing sunset back and possibly reduce accidents by giving more people daylight to make the evening commute.

Of course, changing the time on the clock doesn’t change the time the sun rises or sets, so any gains in the afternoons would be offset in the early morning. But in a popularity contest, DST wins over Pacific Standard Time (PST) by a landslide.

MultiCare sleep medicine specialist Murali Maheswaran, DO, says at first blush, it sounds like a pretty good idea to stay in DST because that’s the more popular time zone.

“It’s sort of annoying to always have to change the clock back,” he says. “It would be nice to keep it the same.”

But as a sleep scientist, Dr. Maheswaran came to a different conclusion. If the state stayed in a permanent DST, the state would be even more sleep-deprived than it already is.

“In the summertime when the sun is out later, it actually makes people go to bed later,” he says. “Then the sun will actually get you up in the mornings, so in the summertime, people are getting less sleep.”

The impact is counteracted somewhat by the natural effect of natural sunlight.

“If you’re sleep deprived in the summer, the extra sunlight gives you a natural high, so you feel like you’re OK,” he says.

In the winter, however, the later sunlight will keep people awake later. But there won’t be sunlight to wake them up. And with more overcast skies, they won’t get the natural mood-boost of a sunny summer day.

“They’re going to be more sleepy when they get on the road,” Dr. Maheswaran says.  

While proponents of year-round DST say the change could reduce accidents during the evening, Dr. Maheswaran is afraid morning accidents will spike.

He says Washington already suffers from more sleep difficulties than other parts of the country simply because our summer days and winter nights are so long. Since sunlight is the strongest “zeitgeber,” or sleep-wake cue, that exists, Washingtonians are already very susceptible to seasonal sleep disruptions.

Teenagers would also suffer. Teens have a strong tendency to stay up late and wake up late. It’s just built in and largely regulated by sunshine.

“It’s difficult for them to wake up for school as it is,” he says.

An extra hour of sunshine in the afternoon and getting up in darkness could have a negative effect on grades and behaviors, he theorizes.

As for the sleep disruptions caused by moving the clock ahead or back an hour, Dr. Maheswaran says that’s usually overstated.

“It’s the same concept as jet lag,” he says. “It takes about one day to recover from one hour of jet lag.”

So the effects of the time change should only last a day or two for most people, he says.

Maheswaran says year-round standard time makes more sense from a sleep standpoint, but “people want what they want.”

And what they want are long summer afternoons and evenings.

“If you want that, then you’ve got to endure the clock changes,” he says. “The flip-side is sleep deprivation year-round.”

Learn more about MultiCare Sleep Medicine Centers

About The Author

Cheryl Reid-Simons
Cheryl Reid-Simons is a freelance writer and serial community volunteer. In her spare time, she drives a private activities shuttle for her twin sons, healthy graduates of the Tacoma General NICU and interim care nursery. More stories by this author
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