Falling Back into Standard Time…One Last Time?
By Hannah Herrlich, Emerging Technologies Librarian
On November 6th, 2022, the clocks will be back by one hour as we get to enjoy an extra hour of sleep and fall back into the rhythm of standard time. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, daylight saving time is the practice of moving the clocks forward one hour from standard time, and it is currently observed in the United States from March to November; standard time is observed during the remaining months of the year.
However, in March 2022, the Senate unanimously passed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021, and the House of Representatives is weighing the matter. The bill would extend daylight saving time as a permanent fixture in the United States for the entire year, and not just from the usual March to November period. If it becomes law, it means the clocks will not change after the “spring forward” from standard time in March 2023. For now, daylight saving time remains, but could this be the very last time we set our clocks back? Only time will tell!
History of Daylight Saving Time
The earliest known proposal to save daylight came from Benjamin Franklin. In his 1784 essay An Economical Project, he uses humor to advocate for laws that would compel the public to rise at dawn to minimize the consumption of candlelight.
Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient?, let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.
Benjamin Franklin, Letter to the Editor of The Journal of Paris, 1784
Unsurprisingly, Franklin’s radical propositions never quite gained popularity.
It wasn’t until 1907, when British builder, William Willett, published a pamphlet, “In the Waste of Daylight,” in which he argues that clocks advance in incremental steps during April and reversed the same way during September.
Now, if some of the hours of wasted sunlight could be withdrawn from the beginning and added to the end of the day, how many advantages would be gained by all, and in particular by those who spend in the open air, when light permits them to do so, whatever time they have at their command after the duties of the day have been discharged.
William Willett, “The Waste of Daylight,” Sloane Square, London, July, 1907.
Willett’s ideas, combined with an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power during World War I, led to the formal adoption of Daylight Saving through the 1918 law, An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States. Additionally, the law enacted standard time by dividing the continental United States into five zones by longitudinal degrees, and in section three of the law, daylight saving time is established. Though this law would be repealed, challenged, and revised throughout the decades to come, Congress established a regular schedule for the observance of daylight saving time in 1966, in the Uniform Time Act. Since 1966, the United States (excluding the states of Arizona and Hawaii, which observe year-round standard time), has observed daylight saving time from March to October/November, and standard time for the remainder of the calendar year.
The Great Debate
The Senate’s passing of the Sunshine Protection Act would make daylight saving time permanent. This means time would no longer change twice a year, and moving the clocks forward one hour in March 2023, would be the final clock change. The bill’s supporters argue that it will put an end to the needless headache of switching the clocks back and forth and potentially spur economic growth. However, opponents argue that making daylight saving time permanent could pose potential health risks.
Beyond the annoying disturbance of switching the clocks twice a year, research has found that elongating daylight hours leads to increased activity among children, pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, researchers have discovered that increased daylight leads to fewer road accidents and that switching permanently to daylight saving time could save lives and costs. Furthermore, there is a potential economic benefit to daylight saving time, as lighter evening hours encourage people to go out and shop, thus boosting the economy.
On the other hand, there are potential health risks caused by daylight saving time. For example, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) supports the move to end changing the clocks twice a year, but advocates for shifting to permanent standard time. This, they argue, would allow for more daylight in the morning and less light at night, aligning with peoples’ circadian rhythms. Further research has shown that the disturbance of the circadian clock may have harmful effects on human health, such as on the core body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain wave activity, and hormone production. Another concerning health risk that daylight saving time imposes is the increased rate of suicide and substance abuse that occurs directly after moving into daylight saving time in the spring. Though these findings could be attributed to disruptions in sleep patterns–and not necessarily changes in exposure to light brought on by daylight saving time itself–there is no evidence for any change in outcomes during the Fall transition.
Though the United States Senate already has passed the Sunshine Protection Act, the House has not moved quickly to address it, and the bill has not made yet to any subcommittee agenda in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce for review and discussion of the plan. If legislation passes the House and proceeds with the president’s signature, permanent daylight saving time would take effect on Nov. 5, 2023, thereby enforcing that no clock change into standard time occurs.
Library Resources for Further Reading
- Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time
- Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving
- Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward
Golberstein, E., Kronenberg, C., & Osborne-Christenson, E. J. (2022). Saving light, losing lives: How daylight saving time impacts deaths from suicide and substance abuse. Health Economics, 31(S2), 40.
Goodman, A., Page, A. S., & Cooper, A. R. (2014). Daylight saving time as a potential public health intervention: An observational study of evening daylight and objectively-measured physical activity among 23,000 children from 9 countries. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11.
Lindenberger, L. M., Ackermann, H., & Parzeller, M. (2019). The Controversial Debate about Daylight Saving Time (DST) – Results of a Retrospective Forensic Autopsy Study in Frankfurt/Main (Germany) over 10 Years (2006-2015). International Journal of Legal Medicine, 133(4), 1259–1266.