daylight savings time
November 5, 2012

Why This Is My Favorite Week Of The Year

There is something magical about falling back. I know I can’t be the only one who experiences this fantastically primal feeling when I look out to the horizon at 6:30pm to see the sun setting. I have nothing but sympathy for my fellow citizens in Arizona and parts of Indiana that don’t get to enjoy this wonderful announcement that winter is soon to be upon us. And the extra hour of sleep isn’t bad either.

I, like many I know, stayed up the extra hour Saturday night. It was a seeming celebration, offering only the best of farewells to the summer months. The earlier morning salutation from the sun was received well.

What is it about a man-created notion for setting our clocks back and forward throughout the year that has made me so ecstatic? And does this call into question that the concept of time is, itself, another man-created notion that we all follow out of a sense of tradition? Perhaps the second question is too heady to answer today.

The time that we are all on today is the accepted time understood the world over. The first concept of Daylight Savings Time was first proposed by one of the greater American thinkers, Benjamin Franklin, in 1784. In his essay, “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light”, he proposed to economize the use of candles by rising earlier to make use of the morning sunlight.

Others saw the ability to “extend” the period of daylight during the longer summer months for the benefit of farmers. The northern hemisphere experiences longer periods of sunlight during the summer months and this would allow farmers a longer period of time to tend to their crops, as their day usually began with the sunrise and ended with sunset.

Franklin’s idea wasn’t really accepted for more than one hundred years after his initial proposal until, in 1895, New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson presented his proposal for a two-hour daylight saving shift to the Wellington Philosophical Society.

But primary credit for Daylight Savings Time was given to the English builder, William Willett in 1905. He, like Franklin, presented an idea to advance the clock in the summer months. Willett’s plan was to advance the clock by 20 minutes each of the Sundays in April and to reverse those minutes over the Sundays in September. Two years after his conception of the idea, it was published and then introduced to the House of Commons in February of 1908. However, the first Daylight Saving Bill, which was examined by a select committee, was never passed into law.

So how did this bi-annual convention that we all now literally set our clocks to come into being? It took a major world war to convince several nations, which had previously rejected the notion, to adopt this idea. In 1916, during World War I, Daylight Savings Time was adopted and implemented on a wide scale throughout Europe.

That most of the globe changes their clocks in the spring months, (respective of hemisphere), allows us to experience this fall back to what the standard time is. Our circadian rhythms are allowed to repair themselves.  And there is scientific data to support this. Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute recognized that there is a higher incidence of car accidents, heart attacks and injuries on the job in the spring months when we lose an hour of sleep. Conversely, we see a decrease in these afflictions in the months after we gain that extra hour of sleep.  Oexman says, “It shows the importance of even gaining one hour of sleep. If we can make an effort to get a little more sleep, maybe we can control diseases like heart disease or diabetes or risk of accidents.”

The United States didn’t fully adopt what we now know as Daylight Savings Time until President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated a year-round DST, which was called “War Time” during World War II. The law was enforced 40 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and stayed in effect until September 30, 1945. It wasn’t until after the surrender of Japan in mid-August of 1945 that the US time zones were relabeled as “Peace Time”.

After 1945 until 1966 there was a lot of confusion in the travel and broadcasting industries because many states and localities were not given clear regulation on when and where they would observe Daylight Savings Time. It wasn’t until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that Congress decided to end the confusion by stating that DST would begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. States were still able, however, to exempt themselves through the passage of local ordinances.

Congress has adopted longer and shorter periods of DST to recognize the need to conserve energy. In the mid-seventies, the expanded DST was proven to save the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil each day. Controversy even surrounded the implementation of DST even then with detractors stating that the dark winter mornings were dangerous for children that were headed to school. It wasn’t until after the energy crisis of 1976 that the US changed our DST schedule to begin on the last Sunday in April. In 1987 the policy was amended again to begin on the first Sunday of April. Our last change was seen as a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

To date, most of the US observes Daylight Savings Time. Hawaii, most of Arizona, and the US insular areas of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam don’t recognize the implementation of Daylight Savings Time.

The act of “falling back”, the return to Standard Time, is not nearly as disruptive to the human body as “springing forward”. This is because the human body operates on a slightly longer than 24-hour cycle, according to Dr. Oexman. “Being able to extend our day is much easier than it is to shorten our day. The body clock is used to little bit of extra time.”

This week, when it gets darker earlier, could actually prompt us to turn in a bit earlier than during Daylight Savings Time. The longer hours of DST, with the extended light of the summer evenings, actually works to keep us up past our bedtimes.

Oexman points out that the return to darkness may not be all good news. Workers will find themselves, after the time change, commuting to and from work in darkness. The earlier nightfall could make it more difficult for people to stay awake. Oexman says this disproportionately affects the elderly. “The tendency is to get tired, watch TV in the dark and nap, and then when it’s time to go to bed, they don’t sleep well and wake up very early in the morning,” he says.

Oexman says there are a few simple steps to combat any of the negative effects of “falling back”. First, it is important to expose yourself to plenty of light. Whether you get out in the sun or not, he states that it is important to turn on lights around your house just to remind yourself that it isn’t yet time to go to bed. Additionally, if you have a regular exercise regimen, adjust the time of your workout a bit later than usual. And as an additional therapy, Oexman suggests buying a small box that provides light therapy.

While this may be my favorite week of the year, where I am personally adjusting to the sun being in a different place in the sky at a different time, it is clear that many may need to recognize that they need to take advantage of different strategies and therapies to counteract the earlier setting of the sun.

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