Daylight Saving Time has ended, and most Americans have turned their clocks back. My sixth grade is in heaven.
I’m at 6:50 these days, our most recent zombie witness among … is slightly awake and relatively bright.
Instead of waking up with shiny clothes, he got the bright morning sun laughing around the curtains. When the school starts, the sun is almost full for an hour. Just a 60-minute change so early and his mood brightened. I think I even saw a smile at breakfast today.
On November 6, most every state in the United States except Hawaii and Arizona switched from daylight saving time or DST to standard time (those two states do not observe DST). This changed the hours of light from evening to morning. In March we will move in the other direction as we “progress”, carrying the morning light to brighter evenings.
The United States’ biannual daylight saving time change has been making headlines since the US Senate voted unanimously in March to make daylight saving time permanent. By rejecting the Sun Protection Act, the clocks would go back and forth, repeating the unpopular experiment Congress tried in the 1970s and prioritizing evening light year-round. But the chance of salvation for staying in the light of the saving time is quite obscure. What such a change could mean for young people is especially sad.
Even the name “daylight saving time” is a bit inaccurate, says Kenneth Wright, a sleep and circadian expert at the University of Colorado Boulder. It is not, he says, a daily change in quantity. “What we can do changes how we live in the sun.” When we advance our clock to an hour, noon no longer represents when the sun approaches its highest point in the sky. Suddenly people’s schedules are just out of sync (SN: 10/17/16).
A lot of it is biological, says Wright. Humans evolve with the daily cycle of light and darkness. The rhythms of our bodies that make us sleep and wake up are the hormones we release. Early morning light is the key watch signal. When it’s time to tinker, he says, “We’re essentially making a choice: Do we want to go with what we’ve developed, or do we want to change it?”
From a health perspective, if it were necessary to establish a permanent daylight saving time, a permanent standard time or changing our current biannual clock practice, Wright says, “I think the answer is incredible.” He says that the most convenient time is always the healthiest for people. In his sight, they endure the constant light, the saving order of time.
The day of salvation is a time of toll on health
Wright was not alone. As daylight saving time continued toward its end of the year, sleep experts across the country came out in favor of the time limit.
Scientists have linked sleep loss, heart attacks and an increased risk of dying in the hospital after a stroke to the switch to daylight saving time, neurologist Beth Malow wrote in Sleep in September She testified this year before the US House of Representatives subcommittee.
“My overall message has been that the standard is a permanent health choice,” says Malow, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
For both Malow and Wright some of the most powerful studies look at US time zone boundaries. Living in a near border setting takes a toll on health and sleep compared to those living on the edge of the first setting, scientists reported in 2019. A similar study in 2018 also found an increased risk of liver cancer the further west people lived. within the time zone where the sun rises and sets later in the day.
But the downsides of a night light aren’t always clear. A November study, for example, suggested that a safer time of year may reduce deer-vehicle collisions. (SN: 11/2/22). But these studies can be easily interpreted, Malow says. Other factors can come into play, such as seasonal deer activity and changing road conditions. “The car registrations are so mixed,” he said. “I’ve seen stuff from both sides.”
He pointed to the study Time & Society in June in which they found that people in the west coast time zone had more car murders than their eastern neighbors.
The dark hours of the morning and the light of the evening mean that people’s body clocks are not in line with the sun. That mismatch can interfere with sleep, making drivers drowsy, which can reverberate into collisions, Malow says. In the evenings, if there is still light in the sky, it sticks to our brain.
Morning light awakens the brain
The adolescent and teen brain may be more vulnerable, Malow says. When kids go through puberty, the brain waits an hour or two longer to release melatonin, the “hormone of darkness” that tells the bodies of kids and adults it’s time to go to sleep.
Bedtime can be tough for older kids because, physiologically, they’re just not as sleepy as they used to be. And as I learned with my daughter, if you mix up the early school start times, the rise and shine can be even harder.
“I’m also a middle schooler. It’s brutal,” says Lisa Meltzer, a pediatric sleep psychologist at Jewish National Health in Denver. Some US school districts are making changes that make the morning easier. Five years ago, Meltzer’s school district embarked on a similar experiment. What they learned can teach us how older kids would fare if daylight saving days stayed on year-round, Meltzer says.
In 2017, the Cherry Creek District in suburban Denver flipped middle schools and started elementary schools later. The change doesn’t affect the younger kids much, who also started class well after sunrise, I’m in 8, says Meltzer, who presented the knowledge behind the different school start times to his school board. But older kids who started school at 8:20 am or 8:50 am noticed a big difference. More slept at night and performed better during the day, Meltzer’s team reported as recently as February Sleep Medicine.
“number one” [high-schoolers] He said how much they wanted to go to school when the light went out,” he said.
And not just the developer. Teachers also felt the benefits of them starting later in the season, Meltzer and colleagues report Nov. 6 Journal of School Health.
Morning light is important for keeping people’s bodies on schedule, says Meltzer. With constant light saving time, kids don’t have the same eye opening, brain watch, I used to. “We need the sun in the morning to track our internal clock,” he said. “I can’t make this clear enough.”
So far, the Senate has seen the annual time-saving plan stalled, so the hope for permanent change doesn’t look bright in the evening light. But come March, when the saving day starts again, we will have to adjust again.
For kids struggling with sleep, Sonal Malhotra, a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has some tips. Consistency is key, he says: regular sleep, meal and exercise schedules. And when he awoke, he adds, “Let it be a bright light.” Malhotra also recommends resting and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon.
I don’t know if my daughter will always be squinty and bushy in the morning (I’m not), but when the mornings finally get darker, Malhotra can give us advice that something can be postponed.
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