The time is about to change, but the problems will remain

First, here’s the reminder: When you go to bed Saturday night, set your clock back one hour. At 2 a.m. Sunday, Georgia will make its annual autumn switch from Daylight Saving Time (DST) to Standard Time. Most of the nation will be doing the same.

The “extra” hour means a bit more sleep for many people, so you may feel unusually refreshed on Sunday morning. Still, things may seem slightly off-kilter as the day wears on. The sun will set earlier than you’ve been used to, night will fall sooner, and the time when you start to become sleepy will feel wrong somehow. The fact is, you’ve shifted to a slightly different schedule, and your body and brain are working to adjust. A few people will suffer gloom and even seasonal depression because of the earlier onset of night.

Scientists say the stress on people’s biological clocks is actually much worse in spring, when Daylight Saving Time returns and people lose an hour of sleep by setting their clocks forward. Sleep deprivation is dangerous, sometimes even deadly. It can worsen medical conditions and increase the rate of accidents. And since many Americans already have a habit of scrimping on their shut-eye, the effect of the spring time change can linger for several days.

Because of the health issues involved, some medical experts have called for an end to Daylight Saving Time in the United States. Meanwhile, several states are seeking instead to move permanently to DST and get rid of Standard Time. These two approaches are not totally at odds, since both would end the problem of seasonal time changes. It’s the switching that bothers people.

Daylight Saving Time has been used in various countries for about a century. Under current law, most of the United States goes back and forth between Daylight and Standard times. This has always been somewhat controversial because of the semi-annual inconvenience. But for decades, most Americans accepted the claims that DST saved energy and boosted the economy. Today, many critics challenge those assumptions, saying they are exaggerated or outdated.

One thing that definitely has been updated since the current time system began around World War I is our understanding of biological rhythms. Today there’s no question that tinkering with the clock every few months can be unhealthy for people.

But don’t expect things to change dramatically soon. While several states want to go on permanent Daylight Saving Time — and have passed their own laws to that effect — they need Congress to change federal law before they can do so. And Congress is not treating the matter as a priority. On top of that, some children’s safety advocates oppose year-round DST, saying it would mean beginning winter school days in the dark.

It’s actually permissible under federal law for states to switch to permanent Standard Time, but that option (which has been discussed by Georgia legislators) does not seem to have a strong following. So when you “fall back” this weekend, keep in mind that you’ll probably be “springing forward” when March rolls around.

Gerdeen Dyer is assistant editor of Georgia Health News