Standard time returns early Sunday and sleep experts but some...

Standard time returns early Sunday and sleep experts but some law makers want seasonal time changes eliminated because of potential negative health effects. Credit: AP

Many Long Islanders will get an extra hour of sleep Sunday when daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. and clocks “fall back” one hour. In the near term, that’s good news for most of us.

But an increasing number of experts — and some lawmakers — say seasonal time changes are disruptive and should be eliminated, with Americans adopting permanent standard time. 

“In terms of science and policy, evidence is pretty clear: People get more sleep and better outcomes when they are on standard time,” said Lauren Hale, a professor in Stony Brook University’s preventive medicine program and founding editor of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Journal

That’s because under standard time, more sun is available in the morning, when sunlight works as the primary cue for a set of physical, mental and behavioral changes in the body known as circadian rhythms. Sunlight helps us wake up; darkness makes us drowsy. 

“Every cell in your body has a clock in it” that follows these rhythms, said Hale. Those protein clocks are also present in bacteria, plants and animals. In humans, they are regulated by a mass of neurons in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that receives direct input from the eyes. 

Daylight saving disrupts those rhythms. Introduced more than century ago during World War I, daylight saving was intended to conserve precious energy by moving the clocks ahead an hour, delaying the need for electric-powered lights in the evenings. 

The practice, repeated during World War II, appealed to those who liked an extra hour of light at the end of summer days. Congress codified it in 1966 with passage of the Uniform Time Act, which has been modified periodically since. Hawaii and Arizona do not observe daylight saving time. 

Scientific studies have shown that changing clocks is — more than just a nuisance — linked to acute harms.   An article in the November issue of the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine by psychology Professor Michael Antle found dozens of recent papers tying time change to motor vehicle and job safety issues, increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, drug overdoses and suicide. Studies also showed time changes made people less generous, more likely to procrastinate — and even slower. The study making that case found marathon runners’ times were 12.3 minutes slower after the lost hour in the spring; the added fall hour cut 1.4 minutes from finishing times.

Antle, a University of Calgary psychology professor who studies mammalian circadian rhythms, said the start of daylight saving creates a “mismatch between circadian rhythm and the work cycle and social clock” that lasts for weeks. 

Simply switching full time to daylight saving, as  U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)  has proposed in his Sunshine Protection Act, did not solve those health problems when it was tried by the United Kingdom in the 1960s and by Russia about a decade ago, Antle said. 

“You might think you’d want that little extra light in winter, but everyone who’s tried it has buyer’s remorse,” he said.

Northwell Health’s Dr. Frederick Davis, an emergency medicine specialist, said the “fall back” could have negative impacts on people who work nights in fields like medicine, law enforcement and driving. 

Dr. Harly E. Greenberg, a pulmonary care and sleep medicine specialist, also at Northwell, said evidence of the harms of time change was “mounting.” While “the biology suggests we go with permanent standard time,” he acknowledged that many people prefer daylight saving time.

“This needs to be settled by politicians,” he said.    

Both doctors recommended changing clocks before going to sleep Saturday, taking advantage of the extra hour of sleep if possible. Greenberg also recommended phasing in the change in 15-minute increments. Hale, of Stony Brook, said people should use the occasion to assess their “sleep hygiene … limited caffeine in the afternoon, limited technology in the bedroom and try to get that early morning light.”

Versions of the Sunshine Protection Act have sat in committees in the U.S. Senate and House since March. At least four bills relating to daylight saving time are in committee in the New York State Legislature. They would, variously, make standard time permanent, daylight saving permanent, switch the state to the Atlantic time zone and establish a committee to mull things over. 

Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), sponsor of the bill to make standard time permanent, said the health concerns over time changes outweigh whatever benefits daylight savings might once have offered.

“It’s ridiculous, in the 21st century, to have this gimmick,” he said.

Many Long Islanders will get an extra hour of sleep Sunday when daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. and clocks “fall back” one hour. In the near term, that’s good news for most of us.

But an increasing number of experts — and some lawmakers — say seasonal time changes are disruptive and should be eliminated, with Americans adopting permanent standard time. 

“In terms of science and policy, evidence is pretty clear: People get more sleep and better outcomes when they are on standard time,” said Lauren Hale, a professor in Stony Brook University’s preventive medicine program and founding editor of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Journal

That’s because under standard time, more sun is available in the morning, when sunlight works as the primary cue for a set of physical, mental and behavioral changes in the body known as circadian rhythms. Sunlight helps us wake up; darkness makes us drowsy. 

“Every cell in your body has a clock in it” that follows these rhythms, said Hale. Those protein clocks are also present in bacteria, plants and animals. In humans, they are regulated by a mass of neurons in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that receives direct input from the eyes. 

Disrupted rhythms

Daylight saving disrupts those rhythms. Introduced more than century ago during World War I, daylight saving was intended to conserve precious energy by moving the clocks ahead an hour, delaying the need for electric-powered lights in the evenings. 

The practice, repeated during World War II, appealed to those who liked an extra hour of light at the end of summer days. Congress codified it in 1966 with passage of the Uniform Time Act, which has been modified periodically since. Hawaii and Arizona do not observe daylight saving time. 

Scientific studies have shown that changing clocks is — more than just a nuisance — linked to acute harms.   An article in the November issue of the journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine by psychology Professor Michael Antle found dozens of recent papers tying time change to motor vehicle and job safety issues, increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, drug overdoses and suicide. Studies also showed time changes made people less generous, more likely to procrastinate — and even slower. The study making that case found marathon runners’ times were 12.3 minutes slower after the lost hour in the spring; the added fall hour cut 1.4 minutes from finishing times.

Antle, a University of Calgary psychology professor who studies mammalian circadian rhythms, said the start of daylight saving creates a “mismatch between circadian rhythm and the work cycle and social clock” that lasts for weeks. 

Simply switching full time to daylight saving, as  U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)  has proposed in his Sunshine Protection Act, did not solve those health problems when it was tried by the United Kingdom in the 1960s and by Russia about a decade ago, Antle said. 

“You might think you’d want that little extra light in winter, but everyone who’s tried it has buyer’s remorse,” he said.

Evidence mounting

Northwell Health’s Dr. Frederick Davis, an emergency medicine specialist, said the “fall back” could have negative impacts on people who work nights in fields like medicine, law enforcement and driving. 

Dr. Harly E. Greenberg, a pulmonary care and sleep medicine specialist, also at Northwell, said evidence of the harms of time change was “mounting.” While “the biology suggests we go with permanent standard time,” he acknowledged that many people prefer daylight saving time.

“This needs to be settled by politicians,” he said.    

Both doctors recommended changing clocks before going to sleep Saturday, taking advantage of the extra hour of sleep if possible. Greenberg also recommended phasing in the change in 15-minute increments. Hale, of Stony Brook, said people should use the occasion to assess their “sleep hygiene … limited caffeine in the afternoon, limited technology in the bedroom and try to get that early morning light.”

Versions of the Sunshine Protection Act have sat in committees in the U.S. Senate and House since March. At least four bills relating to daylight saving time are in committee in the New York State Legislature. They would, variously, make standard time permanent, daylight saving permanent, switch the state to the Atlantic time zone and establish a committee to mull things over. 

Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), sponsor of the bill to make standard time permanent, said the health concerns over time changes outweigh whatever benefits daylight savings might once have offered.

“It’s ridiculous, in the 21st century, to have this gimmick,” he said.

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