Why Does the Senate Hate the Dark?

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Opinions Editor

Graphic courtesy of iam2mia

Early last week, the United States Senate voted to do away with our biannual time change. This decision was abrupt and seemed to pass with almost no warning, as people are understandably more focused on larger, more important issues such as the invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19. However, American senators, their schedules apparently direly thrown off by the spring forward, introduced the “Sunshine Protection Act,” which would end the practice of turning clocks back one hour to standard time every November. Therefore, daylight savings time, which currently begins in March, would last throughout the year. If the bill makes it through the House and is signed by President Biden, it could potentially go into effect in November of 2023.

When I first heard this story, I couldn’t believe that it was true. Although they are sometimes inconvenient, these time changes have been constant events throughout my 20 years of life. Perhaps it’s silly, but doing away with this practice completely didn’t sit right with me. Why was this necessary in the first place when, as I said before, there are many other more important issues the Senate could be spending their time legislating about? Well, Senator Patty of Washington and one of the leaders of this “movement” blamed the time change for disrupting children’s sleep cycles: “This past weekend, Americans from Washington State to Florida had to lose an hour of sleep for absolutely no reason. This is a burden and a headache we don’t need. Any parent who has worked so hard to get a newborn or a toddler on a regular sleeping schedule understands the absolute chaos changing our clocks creates.” Additionally, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island lamented, “It is a sad time. People are unhappy. It does darken our lives in a very literal sense… We have sunset in Rhode Island at 4:15— 4:15!” 

Aside from the terrible, horrible, disgusting prospect of a 4 p.m. sunset, there are some pieces of evidence that suggest the time changes may be somewhat problematic. Studies show that the fall transition to standard time correlated with a temporary increase in depressive episodes; the spring switch, on the other hand, did not show any significant increase in depressive episodes. Also, some say that more light in the evenings would give people more time to spend money. I guess spending $100 to fill your gas tank is more pleasant if the sun is out.

However, some sleep scientists argue that standard time, which is what we follow during the winter, is more aligned with the progression of the sun. This means that when we have brighter mornings, people are able to get up and stay more alert, while darker nights elevate melatonin levels that help with sleep. If it is too dark in the morning, it is difficult to get up, and if it is bright in the evening, it may be harder to fall asleep. This can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn may cause harmful health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, issues with blood pressure, etc. Joseph Takahashi, the chair of the neuroscience department at the O’Donnell Brain Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said, “Daylight saving time, in terms of the medical and health consequences, is the worst choice. It leaves us permanently out of sync with the natural environment.” At least if there is going to be a permanent time change, the Senate should have tried to choose the one that actually makes some sense.

Ultimately, I’m hopeful that this bill will not pass as, so far, the House has been pretty apprehensive about it. I personally just want to be able to cherish my extra hour of sleep in November and not have to worry about it being dark outside at 8 a.m. That would be depressing.

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