It’s that time of year again when we “fall backward” and set the clocks back one hour in observance of Daylight Saving Time. But it once again prompts the ongoing debate of whether Daylight Saving Time is still necessary or if it is a dated, archaic experiment.
In the spring of 2014, a friend and I ambitiously packed up her Hyundai Elantra to the gills and headed out on the road trip of a lifetime to Skagway, Alaska.
We had been hired to work in Skagway for the summer, and it seemed like a good idea to drive through Canada via the Alaska Canada highway. The drive was a harrowing one, as I can tell you that little Hyundais are no match for the wild, winding, snow-covered mountain roads of the Yukon.
And yet, that’s the not the only ordeal that comes to mind when I think about that long trek through the Canadian provinces. The trip also reminded me what a nuisance daylight saving time truly is.
Crossing multiple time zones in a day is hard enough, but the final straw was constantly trying to remember if the area we were in adhered to daylight saving time or not. Both the United States and Canada have regions without daylight saving, and it begs the question, is it time to do away with the practice altogether?
As much as my trip across Canada may have been rife with time checking confusion, this was nothing compared to the utter madness before the Uniform Time Act of 1966 when states had more freedom in deciding their own rules when it came to daylight saving.
The Uniform Time Act quickly put a stop to the chaos and implemented the time zones as we know them today, Atlantic, Eastern, Central, mountain, Pacific, Hawaii–Aleutian, Samoa, and Chamorro, according to the US Department of Transportation.
Time zones themselves have a fascinating history, but this article is about daylight saving which was first introduced as a concept by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.
His comments on the idea that people could save time and money by getting up earlier are thought to be largely a jest, but Franklin was a frugal mann and there was more than a kernel of truth to his words.
Franklin holds the honor of first introducing the notion of daylight saving time, but it was William Willett who is credited with first inventing the idea of moving the clocks forward and back to “save” daylight.
Willet published a brochure in 1907 called the “The Waste of Daylight,” but it still wasn’t practiced by any country until Germany first implemented daylight saving time to save electricity during World War I.
It was World War I that spurred many countries, the US included, to make daylight saving time a reality.
Today, daylight saving time has few friends, while many are vehemently opposed and some who suggest we do away with it altogether.
It may be worthwhile to take a minute to consider the pros and cons of daylight saving time and see how a practice first introduced as an energy saving war effort actually impacts health and energy consumption today.
From a public health standpoint, daylight saving has been shown to have many adverse effects during the first few days that the clocks change.
Research has shown that workplace productivity decreases on the days following daylight saving time. Studies have also reported an increase in traffic accidents, heart attacks, and workplace injuries.
Daylight saving time, particularly when people have to “spring forward” and lose an hour of sleep, can leave people feeling groggy and even jet-lagged.
One study found that daylight saving time is particularly hard for adolescents who are more active in the evenings and the schedule change impacts school performance. In fact, the researchers of the study suggest that teachers avoid giving tests during the first week after the time change.
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that turning the clocks ahead in March correlated with a ten percent increase in heart attacks.
A 2016 study found that that there was an eight percent increase in the rate of ischemic strokes during the first two days following daylight saving time.
“Previous studies have shown that disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm, also called an internal body clock, increase the risk of ischemic stroke, so we wanted to find out if daylight saving time was putting people at risk,” said Jori Ruuskanen, an author of the 2016 study.
The stress that daylight saving time puts on our internal clock can also leave people feeling jet-lagged and out of sorts because circadian rhythms so finely tune our sleep and wake schedules.
If you physically shift time, that’s going to disrupt a person’s internal clock which is what causes many of the adverse health effects associated with daylight saving time.
One study found that traffic fatalities and pedestrian traffic accidents would decrease by three percent if daylight saving time was all year long and some advocates that argue that daylight saving time should be continuous or done away with altogether.
It’s important to remember when looking at these studies that the negative effects of daylight saving time are not permanent and only last while people adjust to the change. There also may be underlying factors not considered by the researchers.
So let’s set the health effects aside for a minute and talk about the main event, the driving force behind daylight saving time: saving energy.
In theory, daylight saving has a lot of merits. By adjusting the clocks to maximize natural sunlight and allow people to take advantage of as much natural light in the evenings as possible, not only could it be beneficial to well being, but also save energy.
More natural light in the early evenings equals less demand for electricity, or at least that was the general gist of why daylight saving was even suggested in the first place.
But do we actually save energy today?
One study saw a unique opportunity in examining energy consumption in Indiana. Many counties in Indiana didn’t observe daylight saving before 2006, and so researchers from Yale and the University of California, Santa Barbara were able to compare energy consumption before and after daylight saving was implemented in Indiana.
The study shows that electricity demand actually increased after 2006 for much of Indiana, translating to an estimated nine million per year in increased electricity bills as well as an increase in pollution.
Even if there is little proof that daylight saving helps conserve energy there, are still people who are adamantly for the practice.
Fans of daylight saving time will quickly point out that what we lose in a few days is nothing compared to the gains that daylight saving time provides over an eight-month period.
Dan Falk wrote an article for Mental Floss discussing the merits of daylight saving time and why it deserves more credit than we give it.
One of the points Falk makes is that if we do away with daylight saving time, we must either switch to a Universal Standard Time or have daylight saving all year round.
“If we stay on Standard Time year round, much of that extra summer daylight, divided equally between morning and evening, goes to waste,” Falk writes. “Do we really need four and a half hours of daylight before most of us start the work day, in June? Surely that light is more valuable to us in the evenings, when we’re finished work or school and (in theory, at least) can do as we please.”
However, daylight saving all year round would make winter mornings miserable Falk also argues.
I belong to the “get rid of it altogether” camp when it comes to daylight saving time, as much as I enjoy getting an extra hour of sleep in November.
While myself and many others would love to see daylight saving abolished, I admit that I don’t have a good solution for what to do instead.
Our time zones are so intricately woven into everyday life from international travel to determining online bank transactions that “doing away with it” can’t be an option without fully considering how either Universal Standard Time or constant daylight saving time would affect our biological clocks, the world’s time zones, and the economy.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer