Daylight Saving Time sheds light on lack of sleep’s disproportionate impact in communities of color

As the United States rolled back the clocks one hour this month to observe the end of Daylight Saving Time, many people got a bit more sleep than usual – but some not as much as others.

Growing evidence shows that lack of sleep and sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, remain more prevalent in Black, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino communities, and these inequities can have long-term detrimental implications for physical health, even raising the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Meanwhile, Daylight Saving Time itself – enacted in the US to reduce electricity usage by extending daylight hours – has long been controversial in the United States.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Sleep Research Society and other medical groups have advocated for ending the practice, calling for the adoption of a permanent standard time that would not involve shifting forward each spring and falling back each autumn.

“Daylight saving time is associated with increased risks of sleep loss, circadian misalignment, and adverse health consequences,” Dr. Beth Malow, professor of neurology and pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Sleep Division in Nashville, said in a news release this month. She authored a paper, published in September in the journal Sleep, detailing the potential health benefits of adopting a permanent standard time.

In March, the US Senate unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make Daylight Saving Time permanent across the country – meaning there would be no reverting to “standard time” from early November through mid-March – but the legislation would have to pass the House and earn President Joe Biden’s signature before becoming effective in November 2023.

Now, some sleep researchers worry about the potential effects that continuing to change standard time twice each year may have on sleep health inequities.

“Poor sleep is associated with a host of poor health outcomes, including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, including of the breast and colon. Many of these health outcomes are more prevalent in the Black population,” said JPB Fellow Chandra Jackson, a researcher and epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, who has been studying racial and ethnic disparities in sleep. Read more about her reasearch.