The rest of America sprang forward yesterday, but Tali and Scott Richards have been here all along.
Standard time has mired most of the U.S. in winter darkness for months. In November, Americans willed the sun, which otherwise would have set by 6 p.m. or so in the northern part of the U.S., to set earlier, at 5 or even 4. Those who still have analog clocks and watches cranked them back one hour; otherwise, iPhones and other devices automatically thrust the country backward.
In their cold town in Connecticut, the Richards family thought,What if we didn’t?
The Richardses have always been night owls, going to bed later and sleeping in. During standard time, which runs from November to March, they’d sleep through much of the morning’s sunlight, only to sit through a long, dark evening. They didn’t like messing with their young kids’ sleep schedules, either. So this year, Tali decided not to change the clocks, and to set all of their devices to the Atlantic time zone—the time zone an hour ahead of eastern time, used by Puerto Rico and Nova Scotia. The family would remain on daylight saving time, even as the world proceeded to “fall back.”
So far, so sunny. Tali’s husband, Scott, hasn’t had any trouble with meetings, because his computer automatically schedules them for the correct time based on his (fake) time zone. In fact, he likes that meetings start an hour later, giving him more time in the mornings. “With ‘fall back,’ you gain an hour once,” Tali told me. This way, “it feels like he gains an hour every day.”
Tali finds herself going to sleep at a more reasonable hour, because her clock tells her it’s already, say, midnight, when it’s really only 11 p.m. for her next-door neighbors. When a friend wants to get together, she just has to remember to add an hour to the meetup time.
The Richardses’ 5- and 7-year-old mainly notice only when other people mention the time—which isn’t often, since they’re homeschooled. “We were doing a Zoom with the local library, and the librarian said, at some point, ‘It’s 1:20,’” Tali told me. “And my boy’s looking at the computer, and he’s like, ‘It’s 2:20.’ And that was a little confusing for the librarian. I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re just doing daylight saving still.’” Because, well, no one can stop you from doing that.
More people might soon get to experience the Richardses’ schedule. A bipartisan group of senators led by Marco Rubio of Florida has introduced a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent. (Though 15 states have already voted to extend daylight saving time year-round, the change would require a federal move like this bill.) In a statement, Rubio cited reduced rates of crime, traffic accidents, and seasonal affective disorder as motivations behind the legislation, plus the fact that changing the clock is rather antiquated.
There’s no good biological reason to change the time twice a year, but most health experts support ending daylight saving time, not making it permanent. Studies show that people get better sleep during standard time, because the bright morning light and the reduced evening light make falling asleep easier. In the winter, a shift to daylight saving time would mean the sun wouldn’t rise until after 8 a.m. in many places, which could make it difficult for people who need to get to early-morning jobs and classes. Some studies show that the sleep loss induced by daylight saving time is associated with an increase in heart attacks and strokes. “When you get sleep deprivation, you start getting increased adrenaline and other hormones, and inflammation that can contribute to stroke and heart attack,” says Beth Ann Malow, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville.
Still, experts say the bigger problem for health is the changing of the clock, not the precise hour America ends up on. Scott Yates, an entrepreneur and advocate for “locking the clock,” says he’s agnostic about whether the U.S. lands on standard or daylight saving time—as long as it picks one. With the biannual time changes, he told me, “I always felt like I was getting this jetlag, without even having the benefits of traveling.”
After seven years of pushing to stop clock shifts, Yates thinks this year’s bill stands a chance. The Trump era is over, so not every policy is tainted by whether a controversial president supports it or hates it. “I backed off [my advocacy] quite a bit during the Trump years, because I want this thing fixed, but I want it fixed permanently,” Yates said. “And I was really afraid that Trump would fix it, and everybody would be like, ‘Oh, I don’t trust it, because it’s Trump.’”
Now, he said, “I’m so happy.”
I asked Yates about the Richardses’ plan—to just live in daylight saving time, no matter what the official clock says. “It’s great,” he said. “I always encourage it.” In a way, the family’s lifestyle illustrates what time is—an agreement. “Time itself is just the thing that we have come up with, as a society, so that we don’t have to say, ‘What time does your flight leave? Oh, you know, when the sun is two hands above the horizon.’” The Richardses are just seeing time for the construct that it is.
Time has felt especially notional throughout the pandemic, because many people have been isolated and following their own schedule. With remote work, your boss doesn’t necessarily know whether you’re getting up five minutes before your 10 a.m. meeting or you’ve been up for hours. Things that run on a fixed timetable—school, church, concerts, group dinners—have been suspended for a year; for those who work from home, so has the need to be anywhere at a particular hour.
Though most Americans will likely be vaccinated by next winter, the Richardses are planning to repeat their time-altering exercise. Scott told me that with the extra sun, this winter felt “brighter and shorter” than normal—something few other Americans would say. “It was an experiment,” Tali said, “but it worked better than I expected.”