Health, Politics, and Less Morning Light

Morning Light, photograph by Ted Kyle / FlickrAn amazing thing happened this week. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make daylight saving time permanent. The amazement comes from two things. First and perhaps most obviously, it’s amazing that the Senate can do anything by unanimous consent in these contentious times. But more startling is that they could do it without a peep about the health effects of taking away morning light in the winter.

This has been tried before and it didn’t go well. Perhaps this is why sleep and health experts have lined up this week saying: “Not so fast!”

The 1974 Experiment

We’ve been here before. In the midst of an energy crisis, President Richard Nixon proposed and Congress approved making daylight saving time permanent. The theory then was that it would save energy at a time when supplies of it were tight.

Up front, this idea seemed popular. Support for it ranged from 57 to 74 percent in polling from late 1973. But the public soured on it very quickly. The move to daylight saving took effect in January 1974. By February, new polling showed that only 30 percent of the public was still in favor of it. In another poll, only 19 percent said this change had been a good idea.

Public sentiment is fickle. Sending kids to school in the dark did not sit well with parents. It didn’t do the kids any favors, either. Reports of children being hit by cars in the dark while heading to school started popping up. Dead kids don’t make for a popular policy.

Seven days after Nixon resigned in August 1974, Senator Bob Dole introduced a bill to repeal the year-round daylight saving experiment. It took barely more than a month to pass it into law.

The Health Effects of Messing with Morning Light

Apart from the terrible experience with automobiles hitting children on their way to school in the dark, there are other health implications with less morning light. Writing in the Atlantic, Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright say it’s not good for us:

“It’s an artificial jump forward from standard time, which is more aligned with the path of the sun. (At noon during standard time, the sun is actually at its highest point in the sky.) Our bodies evolved, over millions of years, to be exquisitely attuned to the sun’s rhythm. When we wake and see sunlight in the morning, it trips off a cascade of chemicals in our brains that coordinate mental and physical health. Morning sunlight (even through the clouds on a winter day) is vital.”

It is especially hard on teens, whose biological clocks favor later hours. Disrupting natural sleep patterns has important implications for both mental function and metabolic health.

A Political Accident

So with much history and much evidence weighing against a move to full-time daylight saving time, how did this sail through the Senate?

The answer, apparently, is that it happened when no one was looking. Dana Milbank reports that Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) “pulled a fast one.” Other senators were distracted with the awful war in Ukraine, so Rubio and Sinema sneaked it through.

No one can accuse the Senate with overthinking this one.

Click here and here for more evidence and opinions about daylight saving time. For more on the history of making it go year-round, click here and here.

Morning Light, photograph by Ted Kyle / Flickr

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March 19, 2022

2 Responses to “Health, Politics, and Less Morning Light”

  1. March 19, 2022 at 9:46 am, David Brown said:

    So, most Americans prefer high 1:00 pm to High Noon. What’s with that?

    • March 20, 2022 at 3:42 am, Ted said:

      Sometimes, poll don’t tell the whole story, eh, David?