Time up for daylight saving? State lawmakers urged to stop flip-flop, set EST as normOct 26, 2023
Sleep experts say: People function better if circadian rhythms match sun cycles; perform better at work, at school. Changing to permanent Eastern Standard Time would benefit all of Massachusetts
BOSTON - Even as Massachusetts residents prepare for the time change that heralds the start of winter for many, sleep experts are urging legislators to consider making Eastern Standard Time permanent and stop the twice-yearly clock flip-flop.
Two neurologists specializing in sleep were among those who spoke at the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, where they urged lawmakers to signal to the federal government that Massachusetts is done with daylight saving time.
“I am speaking as a neurologist, a sleep expert and a mother, and on behalf of the Coalition for Permanent Standard Time,” said Dr. Karin Johnson, a Springfield resident who practices at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. She was joined by Dr. Anthony Izzo, a neurologist who specializes in sleep at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester.
They were clear in their comments about the benefits of keeping time aligned with the sun and urged the committee to support the companion bills filed by Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr., D-Springfield and Sen. Patrick O'Connor, R-Weymouth. The bill stipulates that Massachusetts would not end its time-flipping until it can form a partnership with Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Circadian rhythms linked to sun
“Our circadian rhythms are so strong, and they are set by the sun,” Johnson said, explaining that regardless of how humans manipulate time and clocks, the human body naturally keeps time with the sun.
“These body clocks are essential for our physical and mental health, and our brain performance,” Johnson said. “What daylight saving time does is rob people of sleep and the choice to optimize their sleep duration, quality and timing.”
Car crashes and heart attacks increase the day after Massachusetts and most of the rest of the nation “springs forward,” Izzo said, citing past studies into the effects of changing the clocks. The experts offered studies conducted and endorsed by numerous sleep and medical organizations, including the Sleep Research Society, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Medical Association and Save Standard Time.
Humans are affected adversely even months into daylight saving time, Johnson said. Because Halloween falls on Tuesday this year, the time change will occur between Nov. 4 and 5 this year. Clocks change at 2 a.m. Saturday into Sunday.
“Our circadian clocks are embedded in every cell of our bodies. They work to anticipate the sunrise and sunset, direct us when to wake, when to sleep,” Johnson said. Our body rhythms, she said, do not abide by what clocks say; that disconnect affects humans adversely, increasing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity rates.
“We’re asking our bodies to work harder, our brains to work harder,” Johnson said. “The effects of misaligned time include greater risks for heart attacks, fatal car accidents, depression, suicide and seasonal affective disorders."
In his comments, Izzo told lawmakers that on average, a person loses 19 minutes of sleep daily during the time clocks are set an hour ahead. And for children and teenagers, that sleep loss is even greater.
“Children and teenagers suffer from social jet lag, sleeping less during the week and more on weekends when they try to catch up with their sleep deficits,” Izzo said.
Both noted that good sleep is not just about duration but also factors on regularity, duration and sleep quality.
“If sleep patterns are off, it affects people’s brains,” they said.
Permanent time helps lower-income workers
Establishing a permanent time that aligns with the movement of the sun is also a matter of economic justice. Essential workers are more adversely affected by the change, including those whose jobs start in the early morning such as transportation workers, teachers, janitorial staff, airport workers and bakers.
"This bill will break down the structural disparities that DST already has on minorities and lower-income workers who disproportionately have jobs that start too early for them to get adequate sleep," Johnson said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, remembered his time in the classroom, commenting that he had to open his high school homeroom at 7:15 a.m.
“Imagine, if the state adopted DST, you would have opened your classroom in the dark for four months of the year,” Izzo told Cabral. “Even if school started later at 8 a.m., with DST it would still have been dark. That’s when the day would start to brighten, students would just be waking up, commuting to school.”
In his home village, the community’s main clock was a large stone plaque with markings. “And on sunny days, it would tell you the time,” Cabral said.
Morning darkness longer with DST
There are advocates who are urging the state to switch Massachusetts to Atlantic Standard Time, aligning the Bay State with the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Atlantic Time would serve a similar purpose as DST, extending sunlight hours later into the evening, while ensuring spring mornings are not too dark too long.
Both neurologists said that it would be the least ideal solution, citing the cellular connection between human body rhythms and the sun. Keeping DST permanent would delay sunrises to past 8 a.m. for months during the winter for many communities in the U.S. Worcester would see sunrises past 8:15 a.m. for between 49 to 56 days.
While seasonal time changes are currently the law of the land, earlier forays into establishing DST were for the most part ignored by many American communities. The 1966 passage of the federal Uniform Time Act brought most of the country into line with DST. However, Arizona, Hawaii and the five U.S. territories, including Guam and Puerto Rico, do not follow the spring-forward/fall-back pattern.
The seasonal time change was tweaked to start on the first Sunday in April in 1987, and tweaked again in 2007 to include Halloween and trick-or-treating. And last year Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey introduced the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make DST permanent. However, many sleep experts, including Johnson and Izzo, along with the Society for Research and Biological Rhythms, are against the move.
The U.S. started changing the clock as a support of the war effort in 1918 and again in 1974 to lower energy usage during the gas shortage, said Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, a committee member.
“I’m not sure there is a good reason to continue with the change,” Lovely said, adding she had been unaware of all the ramifications of the clock changes. She noted that it seems everybody is sleep-deprived. “We could all use more sleep, especially the children, the little ones and through high school.”