Does Daylight Saving Time Save Us Anything?

This is the time of year when we are awarded a few spring-like days that remind us that the Vernal Equinox is near and summer is not far behind.

Warm Sun, Cold Air.

When I was little, my mom would make me wear a coat on brisk, early spring mornings. When I protested, she would say, “I know the sun is warm, but the air is cold,” leaving me very confused. Now that I’m a parent, I repeat my mom’s words to my daughter. When she gives me the confused look, the instructor side of me tries to explain that the sun’s rays are becoming more direct, but the terrestrial infrared radiation is not sufficient to heat the air to a point where she doesn’t need a jacket. For some reason, this is lost on a six-year-old.

As an astronomer, I have spent many nights longing for dark skies. But I’m not opposed to the light. I’ve spent some of my best days near the poles during their summers, experiencing 24 hours of daylight. But as we approach the change to Daylight Saving Time (2 a.m. March 10), I can’t help but feel we’re not only losing an hour of sleep, we’re temporarily losing our connection to the night sky.

Daylight Saving and the Hunt for Insects.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the concept of Daylight Saving Time. However, it wasn’t until 1895 that a New Zealand entomologist, George Vernon Hudson, proposed that we shift our clocks ahead to gain an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. He wanted the time to collect insects.

In 1905, a British golfer, William Willet, independently proposed shifting the clock so that the sun would no longer set on his late rounds of golf. I can sympathize.

Daylight Saving Started in WWI.

Germany instituted Daylight Saving in 1916 during World War I. Germany’s coal reserves were running low, and it needed a way to save energy. By shifting the hours of daylight to more closely match working and waking hours, Germany believed it would save energy. Europe, Russia, and the United States soon followed.

Daylight Saving Time is primarily a North American and European phenomenon. There are some exceptions. Hawaii and Arizona do not observe it (although the Navajo Nation does). Indiana, with most of the state on Eastern Time but some counties in Central, has a history of time controversies but since 2006 recognizes Daylight Saving.

Daylight Saving and the Law.

Bills have been proposed to eradicate Daylight Saving Time, while others would make it permanent, essentially a new Standard Time. Proponents have argued that the extra hour of daylight promotes less energy usage, more recreation, increased retail consumption, and a healthier lifestyle. But not everyone agrees.

Save Energy, Gain Health? Maybe.

Energy savings seem to vary by region. Although people use fewer lights, they use more air conditioning and drive more for recreational activities. A study in California showed little savings or cost to switching to Daylight Saving Time, while studies in the South showed greater energy consumption.

Health benefits include incentives to exercise, generate vitamin D and melatonin, and spend more time outside. But studies have also shown that during the week following the change, heart attacks increase by 3 percent and car accidents by 8 percent. Many doctors agree that transitioning to Daylight Saving is eased by doing aerobics, drinking milk, and eating nuts. This also should help with falling asleep under twilight conditions.

Sunlight and Optimism.

I really enjoy the Colorado sun on my face. I feel a sense of renewed optimism as the days get longer and the sun begins its trek toward the northern horizon. But as an astronomer, I miss the opportunity to share and enjoy the night sky at an hour that feels a little more natural.

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Andy Caldwell is an astronomy and geology instructor with the Natural, Applied, and Environmental Sciences Department at the Larimer Campus. As a lifelong Coloradoan, he enjoys setting up telescopes under clear dark skies, and reading our geologic story like pages in a book.

2 Responses to “Does Daylight Saving Time Save Us Anything?”

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March 10, 2013 at 11:06 pm, Clifford Branden said:

This article does not mention that Circadian Rythms are disrupted as a result of daylight savings time and thus increases the likely hood of psychosis and psychotic tragedies such as the increase of public shootings and other increases in violent crimes. Why are we doing this to our society? Why do we allow uneducated individuals to pervade in the running of our country?

Avatar for Andy Caldwell

March 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm, Andy Caldwell said:

I found in my research for this blog that there have been numerous studies on the health effects of Daylight Savings Time. The conclusions are fairly split between the positive effects of sunlight and recreation, and the negative effects of sleep deprivation and skin cancer. There are certainly examples of those who have suffered psychoses in extreme environments such as perpetual night in Alaska, or perpetual daylight in Antarctica. A friend of mine suffered insomnia in Antarctica which led to sucidal thoughts. However, these are typically the exception and not the rule. As to “why we do this,” I’d like to recommend Freakonomics bySteven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. It’s good at explaining from an economist’s point of view why we do things to make ourselves feel good even though, statistically, the opposite may be true.