Healthier Together: The health impacts and politics of daylight saving time

Daylight saving time is this Sunday, which means we’ll all be setting out clocks one hour ahead.

But medical professionals say that the problem with springing forward is that it has a negative impact on our health.

“We’re forcing ourselves to wake up when our body feels like it should still be asleep and that leads to you being tired during the day, not as attentive. Leads to more accidents, but also has a far-ranging effect on the body and its physiologic activity,” Dr. Vishesh Kapur, a UW School of Medicine Professor, said.

Losing that hour of sleep over a period of several days can also cause impairment like alcohol can, according to Dr. Kapur.

“There’s an acute sleep loss that happens, and that accumulates over days until your body adjusts to some degree to this change,” Dr. Kapur said. “So you’re going to feel sleepier, you’re going to be less attentive on your drive in, and you’re going to be less attentive at work.”

Many medical professionals and organizations support the elimination of daylight saving time, while supporting a switch to permanent standard time. Those organizations include The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), American College of Chest Physicians, and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Standard time more closely aligns with the daily rhythms of the body’s internal clock, according to the AASM.

“(Standard time) is the time that aligns the sun with our social clock. It’s when at noon time, the sun is directly overhead (and) that’s defined as standard time. We’ve evolved our activities around natural time. Ideally, we would have standard time throughout the year,” Dr. Kapur said.

Even so, some legislators in Washington, D.C. have pushed to make daylight saving time permanent.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has introduced the Sunshine Protection Act for several years. Supporters of the bill advocate for brighter afternoons and more economic activity.

“That would be a huge disaster,” Dr. Kapur said. “It was tried in the United States in 1973 during the OPEC oil embargo with the thought that it might save energy. It turned out, it didn’t save energy. The plan was to have that permanent daylight saving time go on for two years. After the first winter, it was repealed. There was huge public support for appealing that. And the issues were that once you extend daylight saving time when the days are already short, you’re waking up when it’s very, very dark. That caused safety issues for children who were traveling to school. There were traffic fatalities. But also when the days are very short, it’s very hard to wake up an hour earlier.”

“They sell it as the ‘Sunshine Protection Act,’” Dr. Kapur added. “Nothing we do with our clocks changes the amount of sunshine we have. It just redistributes it to different parts of the day, so there’s some slick marketing that’s happening there. And there’s some business interests that have a stake in this. It’s been demonstrated that with daylight saving time, certain businesses are favored. Convenience stores sell more stuff. There’s more candy sales that happen. There’s certain recreational activities like golfing which are favored. The health impacts outweigh the narrow, kind-of economic benefits for a small portion of the population.”

In Washington state, Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) introduced Senate Bill 5795 this year, which pushed to implement permanent standard time. It failed to get voted out of committee this session. If it had passed, Washington state would have rolled its clocks back in November of 2024, then stayed in standard time for good.

For now, daylight saving time in Washington state is here to stay. The AASM offers the following suggestions to prepare your body for the change:

  • Gradually adjust your sleep and wake times. Shift your bedtime 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night for a few nights before the time change.
  • Set your clocks ahead one hour on Saturday evening, March 7, and go to bed at your normal bedtime.
  • Head outside for some early morning sunlight Sunday morning. Exposure to sunlight will help regulate your morning routine.
  • Get plenty of sleep on Sunday night to ensure you’re rested and ready for the week.