Night Owls, Take Cover: It’s Daylight Saving Time

March 6, 2015 at 2:31 pm
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Alarm clock

At 2 a.m., Sunday, March 8, night owls and vampires around America will shudder involuntarily when we spring forward for daylight saving time (DST).

Morning will roll in an hour early, and for those of us who start work at 5 am that’s going to hurt. We can’t even fully enjoy the blissful extra hour of sleep we’ll regain in November—because, just as there are no free lunches, there are no free hours of sleep, either. We will pay for the luxury of an extra hour of sleep again the following March. And while few can argue against longer summer evenings, is it in our best interest?

Is DST a Health Hazard?

We know that changing time can throw off our natural circadian rhythm, whether it’s from jet lag or DST. The health effects of disrupting our internal clocks could include everything from a rise in heart attacks to an increase in traffic crashes during the first week of DST, according to research in the American Journal of Cardiology and Accident Analysis & Prevention.

On the flip side, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that heart attacks decrease in November. There are clearly gains in health when people have more sunlight after work to hike, bike or play sports outside. Maybe blood donors will even feel inspired to take advantage of the longer daylight to donate blood after work and help Stanford Blood Center steer clear of summer blood shortages.

Does DST Save Energy?

What about DST’s ostensible impetus, that of saving energy? This argument proves tricky, too. Recent studies offer conflicting evidence, writes Brian Handwerk for National Geographic. In a study focused on Australia, when just one part of the country extended daylight saving time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, increased morning energy use wiped out evening gains. Another study compared energy use in the state of Indiana before and after the entire state adopted DST in 2006. The evidence of energy savings proved elusive. Use of artificial lights dropped with DST, but increased air conditioning use more than offset those reductions. Nonetheless, in an October 2008 report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Energy provided data backing up energy savings claims. (Interesting aside: California appeared to benefit the most from daylight saving time; the Department of Energy report attributed a daily energy savings there of 1% to DST, perhaps a perk of a milder climate more conducive to outdoor play, Handwerk hypothesized.)

Still, it all sounds pretty contradictory, and a 2014 poll showed slipping approval of DST among Americans – just a third finding it worthwhile; down from 37% percent in 2013. So why did we start subjecting ourselves to this biannual ritual?

How Did DST Start?

DST has deep historical roots. Some great figures throughout history weighed in fairly passionately on the issue, including noted early bird Benjamin Franklin, who became an advocate of the concept during his stint as a U.S. ambassador in France in 1784. He couldn’t help but notice that people slept in through morning light, while burning candles into the night. Nevertheless, the practice wasn’t enacted until World War I, when Germany launched it to maximize natural light and conserve coal. Other countries, including the U.S., followed suit. By World War II, U.S. federal law mandated it for all states and after the war it became optional for states.

Gradually, most states gave in and adopted DST, although Indiana resisted until 2006 and Arizona and Hawaii are still holding out. But, times are changing once again, with legislative stirrings to eliminate the practice—including those in a number of western states like Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon.

Will California ever join them? Should it? Let us know what you think and don’t forget to adjust your timepieces for the DST change, you wouldn’t want to be an hour late for your scheduled appointment. To make an appointment, visit https://sbcdonor.org/index.cfm.

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