It’s About Time

by Carol A Westbrook

Apples… colorful foliage…Halloween….pumpkin spice latte…There are a lot of things we love about fall, Fall scenebut setting our clocks back is not one of them. Every year in early November, 300 million of us, in every state except Hawaii and Arizona, "fall back" an hour from daylight saving time (DST) to standard time. I have yet to meet one of those millions who like it. It's about time we stopped this awful tradition and stayed on DST forever.

Doing away with seasonal time changes is not likely to happen because it would take an act of Congress–literally. More to the point, everyone thinks its an important sacrifice that we have to make for our country, though most can't say why. Popular belief has it that daylight saving time is necessary to help farmers. That is far from the truth. Farmers were strongly opposed to daylight saving time when it was instituted in 1918, because it led to increased labor costs. That is because farming is done by the sun, although shipping schedules and farm hands followed the clock, so more overtime pay was required. Led by the farming lobby, DST was repealed in 1919 and not reinstituted until 1943, and it has remained on the books every since, though with some minor tweaking.

DST at warDST was enacted into law in the US in 1918 because we were at war, and our enemies the Germans were doing it. The Germans introduced DST in 1916 to conserve energy and coal resources during wartime; the rationale was that adding an extra hour of daylight at the end of the work day meant less artifical light would be needed at home before bedtime. Britain and its allies, as well as many neutral European countries, followed suit, as did the US. Today, about 40% of all countries in the world have adopted seasonal clock changes, mostly those in temperate or cooler climates (green, on the map below). Some formerly used DST but stopped, or are on permanent DST (blue), while other countries have never adopted DST, primarily equatorial states (white).

Daylight saving time's primary effect on energy savings is on residential lighting, which consumes 3.5% of electricity in the US. Yet times have changed a great deal, and so have energy usage patterns.

Today we don't get up by the sun, we get up by the clock, so a shorter evening means more energy is needed for lighting in the morning. A 1975 US Dept. of Transportation study concluded that Map DSTDST might reduce the country's energy usage by 1% in the spring and fall months, but a review of this study by the National Bureau of Standards found no significant savings. Other studies on cost savings are variable, but overall, little benefit for energy conservation has been found, as people tend to shift their activities, using extra air conditioning in the summer and more home lighting during the long dark mornings. The only consistent benefit is that we are reminded to change the batteries in our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

The longer evening light resulting from DST is valued by retail businesses as a means to get people out of the house to spend money in stores and restaurants. Studies do not confirm this. The reality is that during the DST months, the weather is usually better, and people spend more time out of the home regardless of the daylight. For example, in countries near the equator, the sun sets at about 6 pm every day, yet dining out and night-time activities continue well into the late hours of the night.

A downside to the bi-annual clock changes may be on our health. Studies have shown that the resulting disruption of sleep can reduce our efficiency at work, increase the risk of heart attack by as much as 10%, and increase the suicide rate. Is this a good reason to stay full-time on DST and abandon clock switches?

Some people have "Seasonal Affective Disorder," or SAD, and get depressed as the days get shorter and daylight is less. SAD is a mood disorder whereby people who have normal mental health most of the time become excessively depressed during the winter months, manifesting sadness, lethargy, excessive sleeping and lack of energy. It is thought to be related to light exposure and can be treated with bright light therapy.

Many people believe they have SAD because they get the blues as the days get shorter, which is exacerbated by the abrupt change in the length of the evening on the day after your clock "falls back." Having SAD a great excuse to take a vacation to the tropics in the dead of winter, isn't it? (No, your health insurance will not cover that trip!). But true SAD only affects about 1.4% of Americans; the rest of us just get the blues at this time of year because summer.

So why do we hate changing our clocks back, and watching the summer evenings get shorter? Why does it make us blue, and would it help to keep DST in effect all year?

The short answer: it's not the clock change, it's the loss of summer. No matter how you set your clock, or Pumpkin-spice-lattewhat laws Congress enacts, there is no way to stop the days from getting shorter. Setting our clocks back reminds us that we are soon going to be facing cooler, rainy weather, and perhaps even ice and snow. No more beach time, summer vacation, outdoor activities and summer fashions. Back to school and back to work again. Who wouldn't want to turn the clock back to June?

So sit back and enjoy your pumpkin spice latte. Give up on the clock thing and start counting. Daylight Saving Time returns on March 11, 2018, which is only 133 days away, while days start getting longer after the spring equinox on March 19.