March 21, 2023

We all participated in the usual reversion to standard time on Nov. 7 after beginning Daylight Saving Time (DST) on March 14.

DST has been controversial  since its beginning in the U.S. in March 1918. After Germany first used it in 1916 during World War I to save electricity, other nations including the U.S. began to implement it. It became part of Americans’ lives as a wartime effort to conserve energy. However, when it was first proposed, American farmers opposed the measure as it disrupted their work schedules. The agricultural sector led a fight to repeal the measure in 1919, and the effort succeeded in overturning the federal law. 

However, some areas continued to observe DST, and it was adopted by the nation again during World War II. After the war, the U.S. no longer had a uniform requirement for DST, so different regions designed their own time change plans, leading to much confusion for years.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 standardized daylight saving time for the nation, and, later, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 lengthened DST. However, Arizona obtained exemption from DST due to its hot climate, meaning that people do not need longer daylight hours. Similarly, Hawaii avoided DST since its day length varies less than other states because of its tropical latitude.

Over the years, though, many have questioned the effectiveness of DST, especially considering perceived negative consequences. The U.S. Department of Transportation manages DST and says it conserves energy, prevents traffic accidents due to less travel in the dark and reduces crime due to more activity outside occurring during daylight hours.

“During DST, the sun sets one hour later in the evenings, so the need to use electricity for household lighting and appliances is reduced,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “People tend to spend more time outside in the evenings during DST, which reduces the need to use electricity in the home.”

In the 1970s, the Department of Transportation claimed DST lowered the national use of electricity by about 1%. However, new studies have indicated that DST might increase energy use due to the expanded use of technologies such as air conditioning, or it might have no noticeable effect on energy use. Additionally, concerns about changes in sleep patterns and their potential link to dangerous situations such as car accidents have led people to question DST. 

Dr. Erin Smith, associate professor of psychology, said changes in sleep patterns due to DST can cause issues.

“It’s like miniature jet lag — what we might call circadian desynchrony. (That’s) a fancy way of saying our circadian rhythm of the sleep-wake cycle, which runs on a 24-hour cycle, is messed up,” Smith said. “We, as people, need sleep, a lot more than most of us get. When there are changes in our schedule that lead us to get any less sleep, it’s not a good thing.”

Smith said disruptions in sleep patterns can have negative effects on people of every age range and can have ripple effects in society, leading to dangerous situations.

“Babies and young children need so much sleep. Any disturbance there will have major ripple effects and, because babies lack the cognitive sophistication to ‘just lay there until you go to sleep,’ they exacerbate the issue for their already sleep-deprived parents,” Smith said. “Adolescents and young adults are among the most underslept, and disturbances there are like an insult to injury. Adults who work high stakes jobs (medicine, handling heavy machinery, etc.), where peak performance is vital are also at a higher risk of negative consequence from sleeplessness.”

Sleep deprivation is especially harmful during the “spring forward” portion of DST when we lose an hour. 

A Fatality Analysis Reporting System in Current Biology pointed to DST as a cause for a 6 months increase in automobile accidents and about 28 deaths annually. Additionally, the “fall back” portion of DST has been linked to seasonal depression due to early sunsets and changes in circadian rhythms, according to a 2017 study in the journal Epidemiology.

“It’s hard keeping my energy up when it gets dark so early,” said Claire Bailey, junior psychology major. “It can be a little difficult to stay motivated to complete nighttime activities when it feels like you should be in bed. I lived in Arizona for several years and they don’t participate in DST. I liked the more gradual change in light as it fluctuated with the seasons. It felt a lot less shocking. I prefer not changing the time.”

Although it appears to have negative effects, DST continues. However, Californians voted on Proposition 7 in 2018, a proposal supporting the end of DST for the state. Three years ago, 60 percent of voters favored this proposition. 

However, to permanently switch to either standard time or DST, the state legislature must vote in favor of DST and petition Congress for exemption from the Uniform Time Act.

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