Everyone seems to hate daylight saving time. Do we even need it, and why is it so hard to get rid of?
Shifting the clocks messes with people’s circadian rhythms — making everyone groggy, cranky and sometimes dangerously off their game.
Hello darkness, my old beginning-of-the-workday friend. Daylight saving time resumes in the U.S. Sunday, pushing — as the “fall back, spring forward” saying reminds — sunrise and sunset one hour later.
The official change occurs when 2 a.m. EST springs forward to 3 a.m. EDT (or your time zone’s equivalent). Every state, except most parts of Arizona and Hawaii, observe daylight saving time. Daylight saving time (DST) was initially implemented as an emergency energy-saving measure during the world wars, but it stuck around, even if we’re all very sleepy because of it.
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But do we actually need it anymore? Because, for the love of humanity, a whole lot of us would like to see it gone.
While recognized by most states, the current November-to-March return to standard time was only set by federal law in 2007. But there’s been a growing movement calling for ditching fall back and sticking with spring forward. Last year, the Senate unanimously voted to make daylight saving time permanent, but the legislation has been stuck in the House ever since, and it’s unclear if it will budge.
Who’s going to win this argument? The scales seem to be leaning toward a year-round daylight saving time clock — but (and sorry about this) only time will tell.
The time shift isn’t great for your body — and is potentially dangerous
Fundamentally, shifting the clocks either way confounds people’s circadian rhythms, the 24-hour schedule followed by the metabolism that tells you when to eat, sleep, work and relax.
A rule of thumb is that for every hour that your sleeping time shifts, it takes a day to adjust, which means unless you want to have trouble getting to sleep on the Sunday night before your workweek starts (because your body will feel like it’s too early to get some shuteye), you might want to shift your clock back and go to bed earlier this Saturday instead.
Health-wise, the serious health effects are associated with the “spring forward” shift. Fatal car accidents increase around 6 percent on the days after that shift, for example. Heart attack rates go up as well, with studies finding a relative risk increase of 4 to 29 percent. There is also evidence for increased strokes, missed doctor’s appointments and even suicides.
The saving energy argument doesn’t really hold up
Energy consumption plays a pretty significant role in the discussion over whether to try to “save daylight” by taking out an hour in the spring — pushing back on the clock when it gets dark — and then “falling back,” so that the sun then rises “earlier.” People’s schedules are based on the clock, but the sun is doing its own thing. Daylight saving reapportions lightness and darkness ratios, so people have more waking/productive hours when it’s light out (and less electricity needed).
The research says it actually doesn’t. Two economists, Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant, looked at the effects of DST on energy use after Indiana passed a law in 2006 mandating a statewide clock change in Indiana. Of the 7 million households included in the study, the researchers found that using DST actually increased electricity demand, with fall usage going up between 2 and 4 percent and overall use by 1 percent.
While DST worked to decrease the amount of energy people used for lighting, they found it increased when it came to air conditioning.
The economists explained that because peoples’ schedules don’t change, when daylight saving time is implemented in the spring, people still cool their homes in the evening, and evening hours are warmer.
The economists also cite a bevy of research and historical data showing the negative effects of lost sleep, including some major ones — “the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the near meltdown at Three Mile Island, the massive oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.”
That means on daylight saving weekends, returns are predictably lower than than the average regular weekend for every index they looked at, the researchers found. And “the magnitude of the mean return on spring daylight saving weekends … [is] between two to five times … that of ordinary weekends.” And get ready: “The effect of the daylight saving time change on returns is even stronger in the fall.”
POLICY AND DATA LENS
People want to get rid of changing the clock, but a federal law can’t seem to make it through
For years, ending daylight saving time has been a pet project for a handful of Capitol Hill lawmakers who would like to nix the practice. But it didn’t make headway in Congress until spring 2022, when the Senate surprisingly passed a bill getting rid of daylight saving time just a couple days after the annual March “spring forward” jolt in the clocks.
An unusual bipartisan duo of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) co-sponsored the bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, arguing it could help the economy and public health.
“If we can get this passed, we don’t have to keep doing this stupidity anymore,” Rubio said when promoting the bill on the Senate floor. The bill passed the Senate with unanimous consent, meaning no senators objected to its passing.
Not all countries use daylight saving, but for different reasons
Countries such as South Africa and Peru don’t need the extra hour of light in the morning — the closer you get to the equator, the less difference in amount of sunlight throughout the seasons.
Mexico got rid of its daylight saving, but not because of the country’s location. The Mexican congress voted against it in October of 2022 (40 percent said no to the time change, 35 percent wanted to keep it) citing the right to health and safety, as well as electric energy savings.
Ultimately, just like in the U.S., it’s a matter of constant debate in many countries — and for various reasons. South African researchers, for example, believe that implementing daylight saving could save them 0.2 to 0.5 percent of energy every year. Still, the country chooses not to observe it.
Daylight saving changes really are disruptive for small children
Parents of the littlest of littles dread daylight saving time changes. That’s because young children need lots of sleep and often don’t adapt well to sudden changes in routine.
The springtime change to daylight saving this Sunday is less disruptive — with kids losing usually only 15-20 minutes of sleep. The fall time change in November is the bad one. It can affect children’s sleep anywhere from seven to 28 days after the time change — although most toddlers do seem to average out around four days.
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