In the words of no one—ever: It sure is nice that it’s dark by 5 p.m.
Welcome to daylight saving time, that annual event that had much of this nation and many European countries turning back the clocks an hour this weekend.
While it was a nice break for those who wanted an extra hour to sleep in Sunday morning, that’s where any real benefits end. Despite that, and the risks created by altering the natural circadian rhythms of the body, this unpopular tradition continues still.
Daylight saving time has its beginnings in Europe in 1916 as a way to save electricity during wartime. It made the morning lighter although it plunged people into nighttime darkness earlier in the late fall and winter. The United States joined the movement in 1918, but it proved so unpopular that a year later it stopped being a national requirement although some states and larger cities continued the practice. It became a short-lived national mandate again during World War II.
What followed until the mid-1960s was a confusing adaptation of rules that allowed local governments to set their own rules for whether to observe daylight saving time and even when to start and stop it. A national committee studying time changes in 1965 detailed how the lax laws allowed there to be seven different times in a 35-mile drive from Ohio into West Virginia. The laws were refined between 1966 and 1975 and have stayed mostly the same, except for a change in the length of daylight saving time enacted by Congress in 2007.
Supporters cite several standard reasons for continuation of the time change, chief among them to benefit farmers, to save energy and to improve safety.
Yet the farm industry has said repeatedly that it finds little advantage in having the mornings start earlier. The daily tasks remain the same for farmers, and switching the time frame for the work to be completed has few benefits if any to most.
The energy savings is minimal. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the time changes save just 0.03 of a percent in the nation’s energy use—and most of that is actually during the summer.
There is also little to back the belief the time change makes things safer. To the contrary, a New England Journal of Medicine study found traffic accidents are likelier to increase because of the sleep deprivation that change in the body’s alarm clock brings. Other studies have said daylight saving time can be linked to an increase in suicide and health problems such as heart attacks.
Those who are especially sensitive to disruptions in their body’s natural rhythms can have increased problems in mental alertness, agility and memory.
The practice is a relic that has not kept up with societal or technological changes. It’s time to end a disruptive and unnecessary tradition.