Posted on: January 31, 2020 at 8:47 am
Last updated: May 26, 2020 at 10:32 pm

Twice per year, all across the country, we are reminded that it is time to change our clocks. In the fall, we have to turn them back one hour, but at least we’re rewarded for the headache of trying to remember how to change the clock on our microwave with one extra hour of sleep. That is, if you internal body clock lets you sleep in at all.

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In the spring, however, is the dreaded Daylight Savings Time, when our clocks “spring” forward, leaving us with one less hour of sleep. Not shockingly, many Americans are fed up with the whole song and dance, and just want the clocks to remain the same year-round, and for citizens in South Carolina, their wish may be coming true. The Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would observe daylight savings time as the state’s standard time, and now it is awaiting the approval of congress [1].

A Brief History of Daylight Savings

So why do we change our clocks back and forth, and when did it start? 

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The idea was all in an effort to save people money. Benjamin Franklin, American politician and inventor, first came up with it during a trip to Paris in 1784. He thought that if people got up earlier with the sun, they would save on candles [2].

Because of this, Franklin is often credited with inventing daylight saving time, but the truth is he merely proposed the idea that people get up earlier and go to bed earlier. By his calculations, if people simply got up with the sun, they could save what would be equivalent to $200 million today as a whole, through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”He did not, however, suggest that people should actually change their clocks [3].

More than a century later, in 1905, William Willet from the UK had the idea that everyone should actually move their clocks forward. He thought of this while out on an early morning horseback ride, and he noticed that there were very few people out. He thought that by changing the clocks, more people could enjoy the extra sunlight [3]. 

He published a brochure entitled “A Waste of Daylight” in 1907 and spent the rest of his life and a great portion of his personal fortune espousing the benefits of a time change [3].

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The change didn’t happen, however, until the first world war. In 1916, Germany was the first country to adjust their clocks in an effort to save electricity. Shortly after, the British government followed suit and “summertime” was officially introduced [3].

Daylight Saving in the United States

Daylight saving was introduced in the United States in 1918. Many people are under the incorrect assumption that it was to benefit farmers, however, farmers were adamantly opposed to the change because their schedules did not operate by a clock, but rather by the sun itself [3].

Changing the clocks was actually quite disruptive to farmers, and it basically lost them an hour’s worth of productivity. They now had to wait an extra hour in the morning for dew to evaporate so they could harvest hay, and cows weren’t ready to be milked any earlier, which made it difficult for the farmers to meet shipping schedules. Farmhands, however, still ate dinner at the same time, so they ended up working an hour less each day [3].

The problem, however, was that for many years after it was first introduced, daylight saving was dictated by state and municipal governments, meaning that the city or town could choose when they were going to set their clocks back, and for how long. The result was what Time Magazine called “a chaos of clocks”. 

“In 1965 there were 23 different pairs of start and end dates in Iowa alone, and St. Paul, Minnesota, even began daylight saving two weeks before its twin city, Minneapolis. Passengers on a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven time changes.” [3]

It wasn’t until 1966 that the country adopted a unified daylight saving time [3]

Does Daylight Saving Time Affect Our Health?

Aside from the frustration of trying to change the clock on your car radio twice per year, there is some evidence to suggest that turning the clocks forward does have a negative effect on our health in a number of ways:

  1. It can cause sleep deprivation. Our circadian clock (our inner body clock) uses daylight to synchronize to our environment. This inner clock is responsible for regulating when we feel tired and when we feel alert, and it is operated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in our brains. When our eyes detect that its light out, this information is sent to the SCN, which then works to increase our body temperature and cortisol (stress hormone) levels to wake us up. At night, the opposite happens – the SCN lowers our body temperature and increases melatonin (the sleep hormone) so we feel tired [4,5]

Abrupt changes in your usual pattern of light exposure will disrupt this process, similarly to when you experience jet lag. Our bodies are resistant to arbitrary changes in “social time”, and therefore never quite adjust to DST [5,6].

  1. It can affect our mental health. A study published in 2014 in Germany found that after daylight saving, “self-reported life satisfaction” actually decreases, and this has an even greater impact on people with full-time employment [7].

    Even more alarming, a study out of Australia in 2008 found a correlation between DST and suicide rates, particularly for men [8].
  2. It could cause heart attacks. The journal Open Heart published a study in 2014 that found a 24 percent increase in heart attacks on the Monday following DST, which then decreases by 21 percent after DST ends [9]. However, it had no impact on the indices of the disease, meaning the time change may have triggered when the heart attack occurs but didn’t cause the underlying disease.
  3. There is an increase in workplace injuries and car accidents. For people who work jobs that involve physical labor, DST can pose a notable safety risk. A study from the Journal of Applied Psychology on the Monday following DST, there was an increase in workplace injuries. Additionally, not only are drivers drowsier than usual, but they also must now adjust to darker morning commutes, leading to a more than six percent increase in fatal car accidents during the first six days following daylight saving [10,11].

Does DST Actually Save Money?

The National Bureau of Economic Research studied whether or not DST actually saves us money as it was originally intended, and while at one point this may have been an effective strategy, in today’s world the opposite holds true.

According to their study published in 2008, DST actually increases household electricity demand. This is because there is a trade-off: while there is a reduced demand for lighting, DST causes an increased demand for heating and cooling. The authors of the study also estimated that the social cost of increased pollution emissions could range anywhere from $1.7 to $5.5 million every year [12].

Americans are Sick of the Changes

In 2017, EndDaylightSavingTime.org conducted a poll to find out how the American people felt about daylight saving time. It turns out, 74 percent of adults in the United States want to abolish the tradition in favor of later sunsets.

Americans have spoken- and they want more light in the evenings.

“There are many problems and side effects associated with earlier sunsets and time changes,” said Anothony Boldin, founder of the organization. “Most people like more sunlight in the evening, too.” [13]

South Carolina may be one step closer to making this dream a reality, and as public opinion continues to mount against the seemingly unnecessary practice, we may begin to see other states follow suit.

Read: Florida Passed A Bill to Keep Daylight Saving All Year

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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