Utah’s twice-a-year time change can lead to problems like temporary increases in sleep deprivation and car crashes, but the state’s potential move to year-round daylight saving time would come with its own set of health complications.
Senate Bill 59 — which would move Utah to year-round daylight saving time if Congress approves the change and four other states pass similar measures — sailed through the Utah Senate and House in February. The bill passed the Senate with 25 votes in support, two against and two absent. All senators representing Davis, Weber, Box Elder and Morgan counties voted in support.
The bill passed the House with 70 votes in support and only one vote against, from Rep. Joel Briscoe of Salt Lake. None of the four absent votes represent Weber, Davis, Box Elder or Morgan counties.
Daniel Lewin, associate director of the pediatric sleep medicine program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and associate professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, says that many in his field are advocating that states move the other direction, to year-round standard time.
“I can say that the (professional) sleep societies definitely support a change so that we eliminate changing times two times a year,” Lewin said, “but the sleep societies really support standard time, and not daylight savings time.”
This is true of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, made up of researchers who study humans’ circadian, or daily, rhythms, Lewin said.
“We all have what are called clock genes,” Lewin said. “Those were discovered by several researchers who won the Nobel Prize about three years ago. And those clock genes regulate function all over the body and brain and help coordinate different systems across the body. ... If those clocks are sleeping at the wrong time and are not well coordinated, that’s where you begin to have negative health and mental health effects.”
Light in the morning helps set humans’ circadian rhythm each day, Lewin said. Darker fall and winter mornings would occur if Utah stays on daylight saving time year-round, which would make it more difficult for people’s bodies to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
The dark mornings during year-round daylight saving time would contribute to this disruption much more than the additional hour of light in the evenings, Lewin said.
In June 2019, the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms released a position paper in support of year-round standard time.
“(W)e know that DST increases the time difference between the social clock and the body clock,” the statement says. “More and more studies show that time differences between the social clock and the body clock challenge our health.”
These health challenges include decreased life expectancy, shortened sleep, mental and cognitive problems, and other sleep disturbances, the statement says. These sleep disturbances are estimated to cost about 2% of the U.S. gross domestic product, the statement says, equal to the value of the total amount of goods and services produced in a country during a given period of time, usually one year.
“If we established DST throughout the year,” the statement continues, “the chronic effects would become more severe not only because we have to go to work an hour earlier for an additional five months every year but also because body clocks are usually later in winter than in summer with reference to the sun clock.”
This would be most pronounced for teenagers, Lewin said, because their circadian clocks are shifted back one to two hours later than those of adults and children.
“(Teens) live on essentially a different time zone than adults,” Lewin said. Utah teens, he said, are living on California time or earlier. This is why medical professionals recommend that schools start later, he said.
While many area high schools start at 7:30 or 7:40 a.m., medical societies recommend that they start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Lewin has conducted research that supports these recommendations, he said.
Several Utah school districts, including Weber School District, are considering later start times at the suggestion of the Utah Legislature, which also recently passed House Concurrent Resolution 3, “encourag(ing) school districts and charter schools to consider the possible benefits and consequences of a later start to the school day for high schools.”
Because of busing logistics, districts that delay high school start times often must move up the start times for elementary students, who would be going to school in the dark for about four months during the fall and winter on daylight saving time if they started school when teenagers currently do.
While young children tend to naturally rise earlier, they are even more sensitive to the effects of light on their circadian rhythms, Lewin said.
Raymond Ward, House sponsor of SB 59 and representative of the Bountiful area, says that a poll of his constituents indicates they overwhelmingly support ending clock changes, with about 80% of the 238 respondents saying they would prefer the same time year-round.
When given the option of more light in the mornings (standard time) or in the evenings (daylight saving time) throughout the year, 65% of respondents to Ward’s poll indicated that they preferred more light in the evenings.
National polling conducted in October 2019 at University of Chicago shows different results for the country as a whole. About 70% of the national sample were in support of ending biannual clock changes, with 40% favoring a move to year-round standard time and 30% favoring a move to year-round daylight saving time.
Regarding potential health issues connected to the proposed change, Ward said he believes that these medical recommendations are true, but the issue is manageable.
The entire country of China is on one time zone, causing some areas to have darker or lighter mornings, he said, and they’re not facing significant problems.
“They don’t have one half of their country where all the children fail school and the other half of their country where all of them succeed,” Ward said.
He also said the primary interference with circadian rhythms was the biannual clock change.
“Once we settle on one place where you’re just going to stay, I would say, ‘Look, it really doesn’t matter too much,’” Ward said. “School districts, already, even absent this change, are ... looking at ways to make it easier for kids, to not force them to start so early in the morning. It’s not healthy for kids to start so early in the morning.”
Ward supported HCR 3, and he’s supportive in general of secondary schools pushing back their start times, but he says it should be left to the districts to determine exactly how they’d manage such a change.
If SB 59 is signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, four other states in the region need to make a similar shift before Utah’s time will change — pending congressional approval of the move. Other states in the region, like Oregon and Washington, are moving toward daylight saving time if other states also make the change, Ward said.
Standard time, on the other hand, just isn’t popular, he says. And the Utah business community doesn’t want to be on different time than the rest of the region.
“If (moving to standard time) was the right answer, we could do that today,” Ward said. “And that bill has been brought up multiple times in the Legislature, and it’s been shot down every time, and it would be shot down again ... because the majority of people — that’s not their preferred resolution.”