On November 6 at 2am, daylight saving time will once again draw to a close, turning back the clocks one hour and dimming happy hours for the foreseeable future. Our SAD state is so bleak that Washington passed a bill to make DST permanent. But that legislation can't go into effect without enacting the policy federally, which seemed like a long shot...until last year, when the Patty Murray–backed Sunshine Protection Act passed in the U.S. Senate.
The bill would make daylight saving time permanent one year from now. This year, in others words, would be the last time we ever have to turn back our clocks. Proponents said later sunsets would lead to fewer car accidents and robberies, save energy, and boost the economy. But there was a broader implication that it would also lift our spirits. Polls showed most Americans were in favor.
Yet those who actually studied how sunlight affects our wellbeing were not pleased. "We never thought it would pass the Senate," says Horacio de la Iglesia, a professor at the University of Washington whose research on sleep helped change school start times in Seattle. "It's basically a very uninformed, ignorant measure."
Scholars have found that more light exposure helps curb winter depression, de la Iglesia says. But getting a healthy dose of morning light is especially important for warding off the blues because it gets our internal clocks ticking. Permanent daylight saving time would only make our mornings darker for another hour and our SADness worse, he says.
Teenagers would especially feel the effects because their internal circadian rhythms are already delayed. "Within the first winter here, you will see a dramatic increase in depression among teenagers." And since we're farther west in the Pacific time zone, Seattle would be worse off than, say, Spokane.
De la Iglesia says he raised his concerns with state representatives and Murray's staff prior to the Sunshine Protection Act's approval in the Senate. But Murray and company proceeded anyway. (Murray's camp did not return a request for comment.)
Many sleep scientists would much prefer permanent standard time, which more closely aligns with the solar day, when the sun is at its highest point at noon. Our body syncs to that time, says de la Iglesia. DST, meanwhile, is about as artificial as Coca-Cola. And when the U.S. adopted it permanently in the 1970s, people hated it.
Still, de la Iglesia isn't all doom-and-gloom. He's optimistic that, unlike in the Senate, members of the House are hearing out the health experts. "I don't think you'll find any sleep scientist that knows anything about circadian rhythms that will support permanent daylight savings." The bill has stalled in the House after pushback from, among others, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
So there's still time for us to turn back.