Daylight Savings

Maitreyi Bharath

The morning of March 13 was different from other mornings.

For one thing, I lost an hour of sleep. Thank Daylight Saving Time, or DST for short. Since then, my sleep cycle has shifted unhealthily late at night. I wake up feeling more tired than before. Getting through English and Biology in the morning has suddenly become more difficult. In short, my internal system has been messed up, and I won’t be getting back that precious extra hour until November 6, 2022. Is Daylight Saving worth all the hassle?

We’ll get to that soon. But first, we must understand how Daylight Saving Time even works.

In the spring, we turn our clocks ahead an hour. This gives us an extra hour of sunlight. If the sun rises at 6:00 AM and sets at 7:00 PM, then DST shifts sunrise to 7:00 AM and sunset to 8:00 PM. That means that any work we do between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM will be in the darkness during DST. All our other work can then shift up an hour and leave us with that extra sunlight at day’s end. In the fall, we turn our clocks back an hour. We don’t have to do any work in the dark morning hours, but we don’t get any extra sunlight in the evenings either. 

This was the logic behind George Hudson’s 1895 proposal to turn the clock ahead by 2 hours every spring and fall back by 2 hours in the fall. According to Wikipedia, Hudson was an entomologist and wanted more sunlight to study insects during the summer months. In 1905, William Willet independently conceived and proposed the idea of DST to Robert Pearce, a member of the British Parliament. Willet noted that in summer, Londoners were wasting an hour of sunlight on sleep. He also wanted more sunlight for golfing, as an avid outdoorsman. The British Parliament considered but did not implement the idea, leaving Willet to persist in supporting DST for the next 10 years. A common misconception is that Benjamin Franklin first proposed DST. He only wrote about the underlying idea of the time change in a satirical letter to the Journal de Paris.

In 1908, Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada instated DST, becoming the first city in the world to utilize the new clock-by-sunlight system. Germany became the first nation to implement DST across the whole country in 1916. DST was instated to save energy and fuel during World War 1. The U.S. and Europe followed suit within the next two years, also because of the wars. In the U.S. particularly, DST was used during both World Wars. It became U.S. law in 1966 following the energy crisis. Currently, DST is mostly used in North America, Europe, parts of Australia, and a few countries in South America. Countries near the poles or the equator don’t use DST because the change in sunlight is either too minuscule or too extreme to change clocks and affect working hours.

Politically, DST is an oft-debated topic. One main reason, cited by DST opposition, is the time change’s impact on health.  Daylight Savings disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, affecting one’s sleep and eating habits. The fatigue DST causes in most people can have severe effects. According to timeanddate.com, “A Swedish study found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first three weekdays after switching to DST in the spring.” A journal by PLOS Computational Biology notes that rates of fatal traffic accidents and workplace injuries increase during the week after the time change in spring. DST has also been found to increase suicide rates, trigger depression, and increase the rate of strokes. These effects do fade as time goes on and people adjust to a new circadian rhythm. 

DST also impacts work and revenues in certain industries. “Retailing, sports, and tourism interests have historically favored daylight saving, while agricultural and evening-entertainment interests (and some religious groups) have opposed it” (Wikipedia, “Daylight saving time”). The agriculture industry opposes DST because it impacts how much work can be done. Most farm work is based on available sunlight and set times for taking care of animals. Jumping forward by an hour means that farms lose an hour of work waiting for sunlight since they will leave at the same clock time in the evenings. In contrast, the retailing and tourism industries value that extra hour of sun to sell more goods and have more customers visit their stores.

To top it all off, the main reason DST was implemented and is still in effect during the summer months has been thrown into question. Back when candles and gas lamps were the primary light sources, DST helped conserve energy and reduce lighting costs. However, today’s highly efficient energy systems mean that DST has a very small impact on energy conservation. Many studies have attempted to measure the exact effects of DST globally, with conflicting results. According to Entergy Newsroom, several studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Bureau of Economic Research, and others found that DST savings caused slight decreases or increases, varying by location, in lighting and electrical energy usage, but these effects were nullified by home heating costs. An article by Scientific American describes how a 2006 study of DST’s impacts in Indiana “led to a 1 percent overall rise in residential electricity use, costing the state an extra $9 million”, likely due to an increased usage of air conditioning and other cooling systems. Another 2007 study by the California Energy Commission found a “drop in energy use of 0.2 percent” (Scientific American) and concluded that there was virtually no change in California’s energy usage. In addition, much of our energy usage these days is concentrated on computers and other electronic devices, which could also nullify any reductions in electrical energy usage and costs. The minuscule changes in cost and energy usage (if any) don’t appear to be worth the impacts on our health.

There are proposals in several U.S. states to switch to year-round Daylight Saving Time to prevent disruptions of circadian rhythms and lifestyle. Most recently, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Sunshine Protection Act on March 15, 2022. If approved by President Biden and Congress, Daylight Saving Time would be year-round beginning in November 2023.

Since we’ll have to deal with DST until then, here are some tips for adjusting to the time change. The impacts of DST on your life, according to Northwestern Medicine, vary based on one’s lifestyle. Going to bed early the night before the time change helps people get enough sleep and feel less sleep-deprived. The best way to adjust your circadian rhythms quickly is to keep a steady routine. Cues like breakfast and sleeping at a consistent time help your body get back into a steady rhythm. Getting enough sunlight is also important because it “suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a natural sleep-inducing substance” (Northwestern Medicine). Start training your body with your new sleep pattern a week in advance, or more if you feel that your body needs more effort and time to fully adjust. 

Unfortunately, that does put scrolling through Tiktok at 1 AM and snapping your friends late at night out of the question. At least until November 6, 2022.

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