The Daylight Saving Time Dilemma for States Explained

It's not as simple as "spring forward, fall back" across the U.S.

clock close up with blue and pink lightStockbyte/Getty ImagesPart of the shift from winter to spring is enjoying more sunlight in the evenings. As nice as that is, it can be tricky to get there, because when the clocks “spring ahead” for daylight saving time, we all lose an hour of sleep. For some people, that’s not a big deal. But for others (hi, parents of small children on sleep schedules!) it can be pretty disruptive. And not all U.S. states are on board. Here’s what you need to know about the daylight saving dilemma for states.

The history of daylight saving time

If you’ve heard anything about the history of daylight saving time, it’s likely that it was that the process was introduced to help save energy costs by providing more hours of daylight, leaving us less reliant on artificial sources of light. While that’s not incorrect, it’s also only part of the story.

The idea to change the time twice a year can be traced back to several sources. Though Benjamin Franklin is frequently credited with inventing daylight saving time, that’s not entirely true. He did suggest that Parisians alter their sleep schedules so that they were awake longer during daylight hours, but didn’t propose what we now know as daylight saving time.

Other origin stories include that George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, came up with the idea in 1895 so he would have more of a chance to look at bugs in the daylight and that a British builder independently came up with the same idea (minus the bugs) in 1907. Though some people—like Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—were on-board with the idea, it didn’t really catch on until Germany adopted the policy during World War I as a way of reducing energy costs. Here are 11 more things you probably didn’t know about daylight saving time.

The time change comes to America

After that, it didn’t take very long for the rest of the countries involved in World War I, including the United States, to implement daylight saving time. It officially happened in the U.S. on March 9, 1918 when Congress enacted a law introducing daylight saving time, as well as the time zones throughout the country.

The 1918 Standard Time Act put the time changes and zones under the purview of the Interstate Commerce Commission. But that changed in 1966 when the responsibility was shifted over to the newly created Department of Transportation via the Uniform Time Act. It was at this point that things started to get a little murky with different states opting out.

States that have opted out of daylight saving time

Currently, two U.S. states do not observe daylight saving time: Hawaii and Arizona. In 1967, Hawaii was the first to ditch the Uniform Time Act, on the grounds that they didn’t need daylight saving time because of the state’s position near the equator, meaning that the sun rises and sets at basically the same time every day year-round. Most people can’t get these U.S. state facts right. Can you beat the odds?

Arizona followed suit a year later—but things there are a little more complicated. Like Hawaii, Arizona gets plenty of sunshine year-round and doesn’t need the time change. On top of that, staying on one schedule all year helps those in the Grand Canyon State keep temperatures down during daylight hours—meaning less energy and money is spent on air conditioning.

However, the Navajo Nation, which is located in part of northeastern Arizona, does observe daylight saving time. Meanwhile, there is a Hopi reservation that is entirely surrounded by Navajo land that, along with most of the rest of the state, does not participate in the time change. And to add to the confusion, there’s a part of the Navajo nation that exists within the Hope reservation which does observe daylight saving time.

In addition to Hawaii and Arizona, the commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Marina Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam have also opted out of daylight saving time.blue toned clock image and pink toned clock negative imageStockbyte/Getty Images

States that are considering the switch

Soon there may be more than two states that do away with the time change. In 2019 alone, 23 state legislatures debated the topic in some capacity, whether it was to make daylight saving time permanent, or switch to year-round standard time, according to U.S. News & World Report. Currently, ten states (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas) have introduced legislation to adopt permanent standard time, while eight states (Iowa, Maine, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming) have introduced bills to make daylight saving time permanent. Minnesota, Mississippi, and New Mexico have proposals for both types of change.

But even if states manage to pass these laws, not all of them will take effect immediately: switching to permanent daylight saving time requires approval from Congress, while moving to permanent standard time does not. And even if Congress doesn’t approve the switch, states have another option: requesting to switch time zones. So far, Maine and Montana have already asked permission to move to the time zone east of the one they’re in now, which would, in effect, make them feel as though they’re permanently on daylight saving time.

The controversy behind the potential change

Though the movement to “ditch the switch” is gaining momentum, not everyone is in agreement about it. For example, David Avery, MD, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry argues that getting rid of daylight saving time will be harmful for people who live with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) because of the reduction of sunlight in the mornings.

Those in favor of ditching daylight saving time say that it would not only save money and energy, but it could also result in fewer crimes and injuries. “There’s a dramatic threefold increase in injuries at twilight,” Steve Calandrillo, a law professor at the University of Washington School of Law told the Seattle Times.

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, this is something to pay attention to over the next few months. And in the meantime, if you don’t live in Arizona or Hawaii, the date we “spring ahead” this year is March 8. If you have any trouble adjusting to the time, check out these top sleep products on Amazon.

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Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.