The arrival of daylight saving time means that it is time once again for Americans to lose an hour of sleep. Residents of all of the United States, except for Arizona and Hawaii, will turn their clocks, coffee makers, watches, DVRs and car radios ahead one hour beginning at 2:00 a.m. Sunday. Although daylight saving time has been recognized since World War I, few Americans know the real reasons why they are forced to lose an hour of sleep every spring, but plenty of myths surrounding the annual spring event abound. Revealing the truth behind daylight saving time shows that Americans may not be saving much of anything when setting their clocks ahead.
One common misconception about daylight saving time is that it was instituted in order to give farmers additional daylight hours to work their fields. This myth continues to be spread in news reports and by lawmakers, even though the opposite is actually true. Author Michael Downing researched daylight saving time extensively before writing a book on the subject. In an interview with National Geographic, Downing said that it was the powerful lobbies of farmers themselves which kept daylight saving time from being instituted until 1966. Farmers knew that losing an hour of light in the morning would mean that they would have to hurry in order to get their harvests to the markets in time. Dairy farmers fared worse – unlike humans, cows do not adjust their internal clocks just because the government tells them to do so.
In reality, daylight saving time was proposed in England in 1907 in order to use every moment of sunlight each day. The first country to implement the practice was Germany, with the United States following in a quest to preserve energy in the form of coal upon their entry into WWI.
Although it seems obvious that more vitamin D in the form of more sunlight is beneficial to humans, and many believe that the beginning of daylight saving time is a way to shake off the winter doldrums in preparation for the resurgence of spring, the manner in which daylight saving time provides the vitamin is not as beneficial as once thought. The health risks associated with the beginning and ending of daylight saving time include higher rates of suicide, headaches and workplace accidents. Researchers believe the effect of the sleep disruption on persons who have mental health conditions may be behind the rise in suicides following daylight saving time, while doctors believe that cluster headaches, which can last for days or weeks, are often triggered by the change in circadian rhythm that daylight saving time causes.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have determined that the lost hour of sleep due to daylight saving time plays a part in an increase of heart attacks on Mondays after the time switch. The study found that heart attacks increased by 25 percent on the Monday following the beginning of daylight saving time. Researchers believe the rise in stress levels, no matter how small, may account for the increased occurrence of heart attacks.
The United States officially adopted the time change in order to save energy. In 2005, Congress extended daylight saving time by one month with the Energy Policy Act, believing the extension would help to save even more energy. However, in a study conducted by the California Energy Commission to determine the energy savings realized by the additional month, researchers found the savings to be no more than .18 percent, which is not much at all. Studies indicate that although an extra hour of daylight preserves some energy, i.e. electricity, energy usage is usually upped in other areas, i.e. air conditioning.
Businesses, believing daylight saving time to be a boon for the economy, lobbied hard for another month. While some businesses benefit from an increase in daylight hours, such as charcoal and grill makers and convenience stores, others take a financial hit. Television networks find that extra daylight hours means fewer people indoors watching their shows, especially in the early evening hours. Also affected negatively by daylight saving time is the travel industry. U.S. air carriers must shift flight schedules in order to line up with international traffic, and on the rail side, the loss of an hour at night means that Amtrak’s trains must struggle to remain on schedule.
Employee productivity is also negatively affected by daylight saving time. A study in 2012 determined that on the Monday after moving the clocks, workers spent more time surfing the Internet for personal reasons, with some participants of the study wasting as much as 20 percent of their workday.
There is at least one bright spot to observing daylight saving time. According to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the extra hour of daylight in the evening correlates to a 40 percent decrease in robberies three weeks before and three weeks after the shift ahead in time. Although harder to quantify due to exact times of the crimes often unknown, rates of rape and murder also declined.
Since the one-month congressional expansion in 2005, daylight saving time is now in effect for eight months of the year. Given the negatives that occur after springing clocks forward, including that the savings seem to amount to not much at all, there is a growing movement to forego turning the clocks an hour back on November 1 this year in favor of making daylight saving time the standard year round.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Clock image cropped for size by David Michalczuk – Flickr License
Cherry tomatoes image by Wendell – Flickr License
Amtrak image by Don McCullough – Flickr License
Productivity clock image by Matt Gibson – Flickr License