Back in March, you might recall the rare event of a U.S. Senate united in agreement — in this instance, calling for the end to the twice-a-year disruption caused from switching between standard and daylight saving time. It was an action that a 2019 poll revealed 71% of Americans support, according to Reuters. So, the Senate took a stand: daylight saving time in, standard time out. The problem is, a lot of people feel they were backing the wrong pony.
While there is agreement that establishing one consistent time zone is a step in the right direction, it is whether that step should be forward or backward that is in dispute. In April, speaking on the NPR show “Here And Now,” Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep And Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was among those in the public health field who believe lawmakers made the wrong choice.
“Moving to permanent daylight saving time requires everyone to wake up an hour earlier relative to the time the sun rises” and moves everyone in the U.S. one time zone eastward, Czeisler explains. “A time zone is 15 degrees wide, and every five degrees that an individual lives westward within a time zone increases risk of certain types of cancers in a startlingly high manner.”
The timing of several physiological functions is determined by a person’s circadian clock, including release of melatonin. “On top of promoting sleep, the hormone (melatonin) slows down the growth of cancer,” he adds. In layperson terms, the Sleep Foundation describes the human circadian clock as “24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes.”
“Simply shifting the external clock cannot override human beings’ intrinsic circadian biology, which is misaligned (in following) DST,” wrote Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral and social scientist with the RAND Corporation, in an opinion piece that ran in USA Today back in April. “A more evidence-based solution to America’s tortured relationship with springing forward and falling back could be to switch to permanent standard time. Biologically speaking, standard time is more closely aligned with humans’ biological clocks, meaning there is closer alignment between exposure to lightness and darkness and humans’ intrinsic circadian rhythms … that delicious extra hour of evening recreation in the spring and summer comes at a major cost to people’s sleep, mood, alertness, and productivity for the remainder of the year.”
Since its March passage, the Senate bill has been put to bed, resting, you might say, as Congress concentrates on more pressing matters. Little has been spoken about the permanent shift — until a recent minor story appeared.
As reported by the Catholic News Agency, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador submitted a bill on July 5 that “would allow Mexicans to dispense with changing their clocks twice a year,” making daylight saving time in that country a thing of the past by establishing permanent standard time.
“Obrador’s health secretary, Jorge Alcocer, explained the requirement to spring forward and fall back … is not beneficial to people’s health,” writes the Catholic News Agency’s Francesca Pollio Fenton. “Studies have linked changing the time back and forth with sleep deprivation, foggy thinking, and an increase in depression, heart attacks, crime, childhood obesity, and traffic accidents,” he says. “Even farmers think it’s a terrible idea.”
Speaking to the Associated Press about the bill, Alcocer added, “The recommendable thing is to return to standard time, which is when the solar clock coincides with the people’s clock, the clock of God.”
Daylight saving time has been in place in most of the United States since the 1960s. “The U.S. has switched to permanent daylight saving time in the past, both during the energy crisis of the 1970s and in World War II — but both instances ended with a return to standard time,” NPR’s “Here & Now” news program reports.
The United States will resume standard time beginning in November. The bill would allow Arizona and Hawaii, which do not observe daylight saving time, to remain on standard time, as well as American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the Reuters report. Once fully approved, the pending action calling for making daylight saving time permanent would begin in 2023.
There are other reasons why more sunlight exposure can be problematic. The northern hemisphere is now experiencing some of the highest early summer temperatures ever recorded, reports Time magazine’s Aryn Baker. In addition to heatstroke, these elevated temperatures could have long-term consequences including a higher risk of dehydration, which can cause “cognitive dysfunction, high blood pressure and acute kidney injuries,” according to Richard J. Johnson, a medical professor and researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and an expert on the intersection of heat stress and kidney disease. “As temperatures rise, it is likely that incidences of metabolic disease will too, along with the concurrent risk of heart attack and stroke.” An increase in kidney stone development is also a possible result of higher temperatures.
Such outcomes can be avoided by drinking water, getting plenty of rest and finding shade. “For those working and sweating in hot conditions it means frequent breaks and rehydrating with sports drinks or electrolyte solutions to replenish potassium, sodium, and other minerals lost through perspiration,” writes Baker.
Wear a hat, Johnson adds, and get out of the sun. “His advice sounds just like any other health official’s for a reason,” says Baker. “Heat waves kill more people annually in the U.S. than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined,” he notes.