The History and Harms of Daylight Saving Time

According to the Old Farmers Almanac, Benjamin Franklin is not to blame for Daylight Saving Time. The real culprit for our tired eyes this Sunday is an English builder named William Willet. Seeing the shutters closed tight against an already risen sun, he wrote his 1907 manifesto title “The Waste of Daylight.”  

“Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings,” Willet wrote. Everyone laments their shrinkage as the days grow shorter; and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the nearly clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used…. That so many as 210 hours of daylight are, to all intents and purposes, wasted every year is a defect in our civilization. Let England recognise and remedy it.” 

Rather than the drastic hour switch, Willet lobbied for a 20 minute shift forward each of the four Sundays of April, then reversing the process throughout September. He spent a great deal of his own money to convince members of Britain’s Parliament and the U.S. Congress to fall into line, but it wasn’t a popular idea. “One community opposed it on moral grounds, calling the practice the sin of ‘lying’ about true time.” 

During World War I, Germans adopted DST in order to conserve the coal used for household heating 

In 1916, the British followed the suit and declared DST from May 21 to October 1.  

The U.S. joined the experiment on March 31, 1918 under President Woodrow Wilson, but not without opposition among many. A Saturday Evening Post’s columnist even offered up the idea, “Why not ‘save summer’ by having June begin at the end of February?” 

Farmer communities, despite popular belief, were most opposed to the change. A writer for the Literary Digest put it, “The farmer objects to doing his early chores in the dark merely so that his city brother, who is sound asleep at the time, may enjoy a daylight motor ride at eight in the evening.”  

The experiment ended in 1920. 

The Experiment Returns 

War returned to the U.S. with the attack on American territories in 1941. And DST returned to America, this time year-round, again to save fuel. When the war ended, various states adopted part-year DST, without much consistency as to the dates of beginning and ending.  

In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act establishing the usage of DST from the last Sunday of April until the Last Sunday in October. Reportedly, the citizens of Indiana which spans two time zones were sharply divided and as a consequence some counties adopted DST and some did not. Hawaii and most of Arizona and did not adopted the change. 

In 1986, the U.S. Congress approved a bill to increase the span of DST, now beginning on the first Sunday of April with a purpose of conserving 300, 000 barrels of oil used to generate electricity.  

DST in the 21st 

The current period of DST was established in 2005 and went into effect in 2007 beginning on the second Sunday of March, ending on the first Sunday of November. Again, farmers organizations lobby against this practice, preferring simply early days for fieldwork and standard time for ending the work. 

In the state of Oregon in 2019, lawmakers passed SB 320 to keep most of Oregon on DST permanently beginning in 2020. It was to take effect after California and Washington have adopted this practice. However, in California the bill did not pass yet. 

In 2021, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden reintroduced the legislation that would make the DST permanent nationwide.  

The Sunshine Protection Act takes a common-sense step to provide some much-needed stability for families in Oregon and across the nation, Wyden said. Springing forward and falling back year after year only creates unnecessary confusion while harming Americans’ health and our economy. Making Daylight Saving permanent would give folks an hour back of sunshine during the winter months when we need it most.”  

Wyden argued that this bill would reduce car crashes, energy usage, seasonal depression, robberies, childhood obesity, and risk of cardiac issues and stroke while increasing economic activities by 2.7% and improving agricultural economy. 

Energy Saving Myth 

Indiana’s National Bureau of Economic Research reported in 2008 that despite instituting DST as a tool of saving energy there is little evidence of it. “Our main finding is that — contrary to the policy’s intent — DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period.” 

The Human Health Cost 

As Chronobiology reportsthis extra hour of sunlight comes with a cost. People must wake up an hour earlier, while often unable to sleep until the same time. The human brain does not begin to produce melatonin and other hormones essential for good sleep until dark. The result for many people is less sleep.” 

Dr. Michael Antle, a professor with the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, whose research is focused on circadian rhythms, bemoans the fact that everybody moving to make the switch is pushing for permanent daylight saving time (DST), opting, essentially, for a longer workday, with sunrise and sunset coming an hour later. “The problem with these plans is that the evidence suggests a move to permanent standard time would be better for individual and societal health. 

The Change Itself 

And as reported by Life Science, “The data from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health did show an increase in the number and severity of workplace accidents the Monday after the switch to daylight saving time. On that Monday, workers slept an average of 40 minutes less than other days, the researchers write in a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.” 

Advice for the Spring Forward 

There are a few ways that you can adjust to daylight saving time: 

Drink little or no caffeine for a few days before and after the change in the clocks.
• Begin going to bed and waking 15 minutes to a half hour earlier in the week before the time change.
• Try to relax in the hour before bed. Take a melatonin tablet, drink chamomile tea or take a hot bath.
• Expose yourself to bright light immediately upon waking and to dim light or darkness about an hour before you plan to go to bed. 

In general, Americans don’t get as much sleep as they need. DST just seems to make that harder. 

By Joanna Rosińska