Q: What’s the deal with Daylight Saving Time?
A: Last Saturday night (really Sunday morning), we lost an hour of sleep when we set our clocks forward by one hour due to Daylight Saving Time (and not Daylight Savings Time with an “s”). So why do we go through this tedious chore twice every year?
Well, for millennia, people have measured time based on the position of the sun; it was noon when the sun was highest in the sky. Sundials were used well into the Middle Ages, at which time mechanical clocks began to appear. Cities would set their town clock by measuring the position of the sun, but every city would be on a slightly different time.
Though mentioned by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, the modern idea of daylight saving was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson. It was instituted in the United States in 1918, during World War I, in order to save energy for war production by taking advantage of the later hours of daylight between April and October. During World War II the federal government again required the states to observe the time change. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which standardized the length of Daylight Saving Time.
The phrase “Spring forward, Fall back” helps people remember how Daylight Saving Time affects their clocks. At 2 AM on the second Sunday in March, we set our clocks forward one hour ahead of Standard Time (“Spring forward,” even though spring doesn’t begin until late March, over a week after the start of Daylight Saving Time). We “Fall back” at 2 AM on the first Sunday in November by setting our clock back one hour, returning to Standard Time, and gaining back the hour of sleep we previously lost.
But Daylight Saving Time wasn’t just created to confuse our schedules. Proponents of DST generally argue that it saves energy, promotes outdoor leisure activity in the evening which is good for physical and psychological health, reduces traffic accidents, reduces crime, and is good for business. Groups that tend to support DST are urban workers or professionals, retail businesses, outdoor sports enthusiasts and businesses, tourism operators, and others who benefit from increased light during the evening.
Opponents argue that actual energy savings are inconclusive, that DST can disrupt morning activities, and that the act of changing clocks twice a year is economically and socially disruptive and cancels out any benefit. Groups that have tended to oppose DST are farmers, transportation companies, and the indoor entertainment business.
Many people intensely dislike Daylight Saving Time. Frequent complaints are the inconvenience of changing many clocks and adjusting to a new sleep schedule. For most people, this is a mere nuisance, but some people with sleep disorders find this transition very difficult. Indeed, there is evidence that the severity of auto accidents increases and work productivity decreases as people adjust to the time change.
In addition, some argue that the energy saving touted by DST is offset by the energy used by those living in warm climates to cool their homes during summer afternoons and evenings. Similarly, the argument can be made that more evening hours of light encourage people to run errands and visit friends, thus consuming more gasoline.
One definite positive for DST is that you have an excuse for being late for work on Monday morning (oops – forgot to change the time on my alarm clock). So, find the instruction booklet so you can adjust your microwave and be thankful that the cable company adjusts your cable box. Otherwise, it’ll be flashing 12:00 just like the VCR you never figured out.