What moving away from Daylight Saving Time could mean for our sleep habits

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 4:45 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - With the U.S. Senate this week passing legislation that would make daylight saving time permanent throughout the year, there are questions about the potential impact on Americans’ sleep cycles.

With that in mind, FOX 12′s Simon Gutierrez sat down with Dr. Andrew McHill, Director of the Sleep Chronobiology and Health Lab at Oregon Health Sciences University to ask what moving away from bi-annual time change could mean. Here’s are some excerpts from that conversation:

Gutierrez: The Senate just recently passed a bill that would make daylight savings time permanent across the country. What do you anticipate the impact something like that would have on someone’s sleep patterns?

McHill: I think just not changing the time on a yearly basis will actually have an overall positive impact.

Each person has an internal biological clock that synchronizes really tightly with the 24-hour light/dark cycle. Any time we shift it even just by an hour, it misaligns those two clocks, and that can lead to poor health and performance outcomes.

Gutierrez: I think the estimate was because of the daylight savings time, if that would become permanent, people might lose on average 19 minutes of sleep. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but what impact does losing 20 minutes of sleep have on a human?

McHill: Yeah, that’s just on average. Getting not enough sleep adds up chronically over time. So it’s not just one instance of 20 minutes of sleep, it’s chronically losing that sleep. And that’s suggesting that you are going to bed at the proper time every night. It may sound like little bits, but those little bits add up to a lot over time.

Gutierrez: I’ve heard also arguments that standard time is better designed for sleep cycles, in that it tends to get dark a little earlier. Some people say that’s a better approach. If you’re going to have a standardized time, it should be that time. How do you feel about that?

McHill: Standard time does better much up our internal biological clocks with our social clocks and when we’re getting daylight. The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms published several papers suggesting that standard time year-round would be better.

Gutierrez: For those that have trouble sleeping, say if it’s light later, are there things they can do to help themselves get into that sleep cycle?

McHill: Yeah, definitely. One is to make the room comfortable. That can be either making it a cooler temperature, minimizing light exposure from outside, so getting dark curtains that you can black out, and minimizing noise. So if you live on a noisy street, you can use a white noise machine. Keeping cell phones and computers and TVs out of the bedroom is one of the most important things we can do. Just the light from our phones and tablets and TVs actually have an alerting effect on our brain and keep us awake. And one of the most important things we can do is just keep a schedule and be very stable and regular in our sleep wake times, and that allows our brain to prepare to go to sleep.