Tempus Fugit

Time to Turn Back the Clock On Daylight
Saving Time

by Tim Walker  |  Illustrations by Crystal Ash

It’s about time. Again. Spring forward, fall back, and lose an hour of rest or more each way. For exactly one hundred years now, we’ve been disrupting our lives and costing ourselves sleep twice each year as part of this fallacy we refer to as daylight saving time. But now, in this more enlightened age, many individuals and even entire states are looking to change all of that.

On Sunday, Mar. 11, at 2 a.m., we are all, lemming-like, expected to set our clocks forward one hour; although the majority of our electronic devices these days do it automatically, leaving us to manually reset a handful of home clocks to keep everything uniform. A century ago, on Mar. 15, 1918, our elected officials decreed that, by performing this ritual each spring, the populace would subsequently get to enjoy an extra hour of sunlight during the coming temperate summer evenings. The reasoning that went along with this cockamamie and outdated theory is specious at best—and considered harmful and misguided by many members of modern society. Blame it on the farmers if you must, blame it on Ben Franklin, blame it on school buses or blame it on Richard Nixon and the energy crisis of the 1970s—the truth is that we are all now ready for a real change. A permanent one.

The twice-yearly ritual of daylight saving time, springing forward and then falling back eight months later, with its attendant readjusting of our timepieces, sleep schedules, and disruption of our daily lives, is almost certainly causing us more problems than benefits. “Sunlight is a boon to us all,” writes bestselling author Michael Downing in his 2005 book ‘Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.’ “And sunlight is a limited commodity. Why waste it? That was the simple logic of Daylight Saving Time.”

“Although the federal government has long enjoyed a reputation for squandering the nation’s resources,” the Harvard-educated author continues, “In 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 252 to 40 to pass a law ‘To Save Daylight.’ The idea was simple. From late spring to early autumn, the sun rose before most people did, and it set before they were ready to go to sleep. Many people repelled the first light of day with shutters and shades and later relied on candles and electric lights to illuminate their evenings. Why not shift that first, unwelcome hour of light from the morning to the evening? If the nation’s timepieces were simply advanced by one hour, the apparent time of both sunrise and sunset would be delayed. In effect, the nation would have one less hour of light before noon, and one more hour of light after noon.”

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this great nation, actually outlined the first detailed plan for daylight saving time years prior to that, in 1784, in a letter to the editors of the ‘Journal of Paris.’ Unfortunately, what many fail to realize is that Franklin was being satirical in his letter, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Filled with hypothetical calculations of the candle wax savings inherent in his idea, Franklin’s letter also suggested his proposal might be enforced by the daily ringing of church bells and by cannons fired in every street each morning, “to awake the sluggards.”

Little did Franklin know the problems his idea would cause to future patriots. The idea that resetting our clocks ahead by one hour each spring will somehow grant us an extra hour of sunlight—while costing us an hour of sleep, which we’ll then somehow magically regain on Nov. 4, nearly eight months from now—is ludicrous, although grudgingly accepted nearly everywhere. I say ‘nearly’ because there are stubborn pockets of resistance even in the midst of the nation’s widespread daylight saving madness. Arizona, God bless its contrary populace, will have none of it—except on the state’s northeastern tribal lands where the Navajo tribe does observe daylight saving time, no one in the Grand Canyon state bothers to reset their clocks an hour either way. Hawaii, as well, refuses en masse to observe daylight saving time, making the state another isolated oasis of sanity, as well as volcanic activity. While several stubborn counties in our neighboring state of Indiana were holdouts for decades, since 2006 all of the Hoosiers have uniformly observed daylight saving time, although none of the US dependencies observe the practice, including Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands.

But why, you might be asking, does anyone have a problem with daylight saving time in the first place? Why is setting our clocks back and forward for an hour twice each year even an issue? A local doctor and sleep specialist is glad you asked.

“This is a great subject. A lot of people don’t think about sleep as an important subject, and it is,” says Dr. Kevin A. Carter, doctor of family medicine and sleep medicine and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Kettering Medical Center, when speaking with the Dayton City Paper by phone recently. “We spend at least a third of our lives sleeping, and insufficient sleep is a real problem. One hour doesn’t seem like a big difference for most individuals, but when they look at the number of car accidents the following day after daylight saving time, the increase in motor vehicle collisions, the increase in cardiovascular episodes, heart attacks, the insufficient sleep, and the strain that puts on our body—it impairs our ability to do simple things, like drive safely.”

Dr. Carter is an expert on sleep disorders and their treatment, and he goes on to suggest that perhaps, in this day and age, daylight saving time is no longer a useful concept. “As far as I know, I think it was more of an economical decision, originally,” the physician says. “Now we have artificial lighting, and we’ve seen that it does create harm. So I think we need a little more education and research to back it up, but I think from a practical standpoint, it makes sense to keep it all the same and not have that disruption twice every year.”

An increasing number of states are beginning to agree with Dr. Carter. Springing forward and falling back would be a thing of the past in Florida if a new daylight saving bill passes. Senate Bill 858 was recently approved in the aptly-named Sunshine State by the Senate Community Affairs Committee, by a vote of 6-0. If eventually approved by the state legislature, the proposal to shift to year-round daylight saving time would then be dependent on U.S. congressional approval. Under the proposed bill, called the “Sunshine Protection Act,” Florida would observe daylight saving time year-round beginning in November 2019. This would make Florida exempt from the twice-yearly time change. Likewise, in South Carolina, Representative Alan Clemmons says people complain when the time changes, that it is disruptive, and that they have asked for his help in eliminating daylight saving time for the state. He also has sponsored a bill to get his state to only observe standard time, although support is mixed in the state legislature. In a similar move, in March of last year, Texas Representative Jason Isaacs filed a house bill to exempt Texas from observing daylight saving time.

“I think it’s a waste,” says James W. Chrissis, Associate Professor Emeritus in the field of Applied Mathematics at the Air Force Institute of Technology. “It’s an exercise we go through twice a year which accomplishes nothing. If it’s such a damn good idea, then why aren’t we on it year round?”

“It’s supposed to shift the daylight later in the day so that we have more opportunity to enjoy it,” continues Professor Chrissis. “And there may be some truth to that. But it’s an inconvenience, and studies show that there is a lot of lost productivity associated with daylight saving time. Accidents go up. Some people say it has to do with energy savings, and that doesn’t happen either. It fools no one, and I think it needs to be done away with.”

Imagine the negative effects changing the time twice each year has on various industries such as railway service or the nightclub industry—‘Is it 2 a.m. or is it 3 a.m., and when exactly do we pull those drinks?’—or on first responders and graveyard shift workers, and you can see the problem. And since 1989, to compound the injury, make matters worse, and add waste to inconvenience, we’ve been encouraged to change the batteries in our home smoke detectors whenever we reset our clocks. Which wouldn’t be a problem, and might be a good idea, except that most 9-volt batteries in home smoke detectors can be expected to last 2 to 3 years under normal circumstances. Therefore, throwing perfectly good batteries out every March and November to replace them with new ones does little to benefit the public safety, while filling our country’s landfills with tons of unnecessary toxic waste.

In 1989, the manufacturers of Eveready batteries funded a “public education campaign” which coincided with President George Bush’s suggestion that the public should check the batteries in their home smoke detectors each time the country reset the clocks. The Eveready campaign, which featured endorsements from the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Burn Association, proved wildly successful—most of all for Eveready’s bottom line. The company credits that single campaign with ending a six-year declining trend in brand sales, which showed marked increases in October, when the campaign was held, and eventually, in some years, doubling or tripling sales to major chain accounts. What the public should remember, and the media needs to express, is that we should all be testing the batteries in our smoke detectors twice each year to ensure they’re working—not blithely and wastefully replacing them.

But perhaps we can find an answer by resetting our bodies, minds, and internal clocks, much as we do the clock on the wall. What, then, can regular individuals do to reduce the effects that this month’s and future time changes might have on his or her well-being? In order to decrease the intrusion of fatigue and stress that daylight saving time manages to dump into our daily lives, what options do Americans have? For the answer to that question, we turn again to Dr. Kevin Carter.

“Circadian rhythm is really the issue,” says Dr. Carter. “So, basically, what you’re treating is a little bit of jet lag. So, what you’re trying to do is reset your internal clock so that it matches the clock on the wall. When you spring forward, what you’re basically doing is trying to fall asleep quicker, and our circadian rhythms are about 24.2 hours long. It’s always harder to try and fall asleep earlier than it is to stay up later. Just like it’s easier to travel westward than it is to travel eastward.”

“So the thing that people can do,” the doctor continues, “is they have to start a week ahead, and start resetting that internal clock, moving your bedtime and wake time up by fifteen minutes each night or two, a week or at least four days prior to that time switch. So you can start early enough and work on resetting that clock, because those proteins that control our circadian rhythms don’t just happen overnight. It takes a little bit of time. Other things they can do are avoiding light as much as possible in the evening, in the hours leading up to bedtime, and then expose yourself to bright lights early, first thing in the morning. That will also help to reset that internal clock.”

Time flies. Time marches on. Time flows like a river. All cliches, true… but time has a way of catching up with each of us, and we’re all better off not allowing it to create stress or difficulties in our daily lives. If moving to Hawaii or Arizona is not an option, then learning to live with Ohio’s twice-yearly time changes—and keeping them from costing us precious hours of sleep—might be in the best interests of all of us.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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