Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
The modern idea of Daylight Saving Time (I, too, just learned that it’s Daylight SavinG, not SavinGS) was actually conceptualized in 1895 by an entomologist, or insect scientist, from New Zealand named George Hudson. His reasoning was that he wanted a two-hour shift so that he could use the extra hours of daylight after work to hunt for bugs. Several years later, William Willet (who is the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay’s lead singer, Chris Martin, because why not?) independently proposed Daylight Saving Time to the English Parliament as a way to conserve sunlight for longer, lighter evenings, an idea supported by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Despite the notoriously quick pace of the British Parliament, Daylight Saving didn’t become widespread until it was adopted by Germany in 1916 as a way to conserve fuel for electricity. The rest of the nations that fought in World Word I soon followed suit, including the United States in 1918. Year-round Daylight Saving was enacted in the U.S. during World War II, and later the Uniform Time Act of 1966 regulated time zones and time changes (and still does today). According to this act, Daylight Saving Time “springs forward” at 2:00 a.m. local time on the second Sunday in March, and “falls back” at 2:00 a.m. local time on the first Sunday in November. The intermittent four months between those March and November Sundays are what are called standard time.
During the era of its inception, coal was the world’s primary fuel source, so Daylight Saving truly did save energy. However, in 2020, support for abolishing Daylight Saving is growing, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, we know that the Earth is tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane, which means that those who live closer to the equator receive a fairly steady amount of sunlight year-round. This is why the majority of Arizona (excluding the Navajo Nation), Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands don’t change their clocks in observance of Daylight Saving, and Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have proposed bills to opt out of the time change as well.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) has also been found to cause a number of health problems in the weeks after we switch forwards or backwards an hour, as a result of sleep deprivation. A study featured in the New England Journal of Medicine found that your risk of having a heart attack increases in the three weeks following March’s “spring forward.” Traffic accidents, workplace injuries and emergency room visits also increase on the Monday after the time change, and the severity of these injuries are higher compared to other Mondays over the year.
Losing one hour of sleep in the spring can also trigger mental illness. Individuals with depression, bipolar disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be significantly affected by the time transitions. Male suicide rates have been found to increase in the days following both the fall and spring time changes. Appetite, which is linked closely with sleep cycles, is often increased during DST. Additionally, concentration levels, productivity and general well-being/happiness can also be negatively impacted by DST.
Our bodies run on a 24-hour sleep cycle dictated largely by the amount of light our eyes perceive, and this internal clock helps to regulate hormone signaling in our body. Humans have adapted over time to adjust this cycle to the changing seasons, but as shown by the incidence of accidents that occur each year, not DST, because it is a change in our social — not biological — clocks. Because of this, one 2007 study argues that humans do not ever fully adapt to or recover from DST and that it may even shorten our life spans.
Before doing any research for this column, I already harbored a vague hatred for DST, probably from having to wake up in the dark to go to school in the winter months. However, I am happy to report that I have now fully crossed over to the Dark Side (aka no DST) and now hate DST with a fiery, burning passion. Growing evidence supports the idea that DST does more harm than good and I hope that, after reading this column, you too will join me on the Dark Side, and hopefully one day DST will be abolished completely.